When the Orioles and Cleveland Indians opened their four-game series at the beginning of the week, it's safe to assume the two sides eagerly were awaiting each other.
With a .249 average, the Orioles were the third-worst hitting team in the American League, and the Indians were next to last in pitching with a 5.08 earned run average. Something, it seemed, had to give -- but didn't.
The four-game set ended in a draw yesterday, as a trio of Cleveland pitchers restricted the Orioles to three hits in a 3-1 win that enabled the Indians to split the series. However, if it had been a boxing match, the Indians would have been awarded the verdict via a clear decision.
Before they left town, the Indians whittled their ERA to 4.96 and reduced the Orioles' batting average to .246. Which is just another indication that bad pitching still will beat bad hitting.
The victor yesterday was Dennis Cook (3-1), who allowed all of the Orioles hits in 5 2/3 innings. It was his first start since Oct. 1, when he allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings. You might have guessed that start also was against the Orioles, who nevertheless managed to win that game, 3-2, in 10 innings.
Yesterday, Cook became the 10th starting pitcher used by Indians manager Mike Hargrove, who undoubtedly has a good memory and decided the Orioles were as good a team as any for the left-hander to face in his first start of the year.
"He pitched well," said Hargrove. "The big difference is that he's healthy. His shoulder was hurting him [previously], and he didn't tell anybody. When you don't know a guy is hurt, you don't know what's going on."
On the other side, it was difficult for Orioles manager Johnny Oates to tell whether it was the pitching or the (non) hitting that decided the outcome. "I don't know," said Oates. "Cook, [John] Dopson, [Danny] Darwin, [John] Doherty, [Jose] Mesa -- who else has pitched against us lately?
"We had two games in Minnesota and the last two [against the Indians] where we scored some runs. But, other than that, it's been a hit here and a hit there.
"You can talk about it all you want, but we're just not swinging good right now. Sooner or later, we're going to start coming around. If we don't, it's going to be a long summer.
"We've got to keep a positive attitude," said Oates. "We're going to keep working until our offense gets involved and hope our pitching continues to keep us in games."
There was little involvement yesterday, wasting a solid performance by Jamie Moyer (0-1), who pitched 7 1/3 innings in his first major-league appearance since two years ago today. The left-hander allowed 10 hits, but held the Indians scoreless after they scratched out two runs in the first inning.
Mark McLemore, who had an unusual afternoon, had two of the three hits off Cook -- but was picked off while trying to steal both times. He also saved two runs in the sixth inning when he leaped over the barrier in front of the right-center-field bleachers to take a two-run homer away from Carlos Martinez.
"One of those days," said McLemore, who has been the only consistent threat in the Orioles lineup.
The Indians got their first two runs with a motion, rather than a slugging, offense. Thomas Howard bounced a single just out of the reach of third baseman Leo Gomez with one out in the first inning, and Carlos Baerga then dropped a bunt single in front of Gomez.
On a 3-2 pitch, the runners were moving on Albert Belle's line single to left, allowing Baerga to reach third while Howard was scoring. Immediately thereafter, Belle was running as Martinez hit what might have been a double-play grounder to shortstop Cal Ripken, whose only play was at first base as Baerga scored the second run.
From that point on, Moyer, aided by good defensive plays from Gomez, McLemore, second baseman Harold Reynolds and center fielder Damon Buford, held the Indians in check.
A brief control lapse by Cook enabled the Orioles to score their lone run in the fifth inning. David Segui walked with two outs, went to second when Buford was hit by a pitch and scored on Jeff Tackett's single through the middle.
The Orioles' only other chance came the next inning, when McLemore doubled into the left-field corner, but the threat quickly was extinguished. McLemore, who had been picked off trying to outguess Cook on a steal attempt in the first inning, met the same fate again.
With Cook pitching cautiously to Ripken and with the Orioles struggling to score runs, McLemore got a big jump and attempted to steal third. The only problem was that Cook didn't complete his pitch, instead spinning off the mound to trap McLemore in a rundown.
It was, as Oates said later, a good idea that backfired. "The last time I looked at the scoreboard, we had three hits," he said. "We were trying to generate some offense, and those things are going to happen when you try to utilize your speed."
That, as it turned out, was the Orioles' final opportunity. After Ripken walked, Cook was replaced by right-hander Tom Kramer, who needed only 10 pitches to get through the next 1 1/3 innings.
Left-hander Derek Lilliquist pitched the last two innings for his sixth save, the Indians added an insurance run against relievers Mark Williamson and Jim Poole in the ninth, and the last 10 batters went out in order for the Orioles.