MINNEAPOLIS -- Fresh off a three-game sweep of the two-time defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles set their sights on first place in the American League East and headed to the Midwest to play the Minnesota Twins.
With Ben McDonald and Sid Fernandez starting the first two of three games against the Twins, the last-place team in the AL Central, the Orioles had reason to feel confident.
Today they bank on left-hander Jamie Moyer to save them from being swept out of the Metrodome.
Future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield homered twice off Fernandez and drove in five runs to lead the Twins to an 8-5 victory over the Orioles last night. Fernandez (2-1) didn't make it out of the fifth inning, allowed seven runs, and lost his first game in the American League.
"I thought I had the best fastball I've had yet this year," Fernandez said, but Winfield planted two of those fastballs over the fence.
Fernandez fell behind Winfield 3-0 twice and worked the count back to 3-2, but lost the battle both times. Shane Mack was the only Twins hitter who had faced Fernandez before last night.
Winfield's first impressions?
"Not many lefties will intentionally throw high," Winfield said. "He has almost a three-part delivery. He'll lift his leg and then take the long stride, and then he'll fire the ball with his wrist. It's kind of a funky, disjointed motion. It's unique."
Fernandez's pitching line was full of contradictions and was every bit as funky and disjointed. He lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowed seven hits and seven earned runs, walked one, and struck out nine. He had all the right stuff, but put it in all the wrong places.
In his past two starts, Fernandez won a game in which he walked six and struck out one and lost a game in which he walked one and struck out nine.
"It's funny," Fernandez said. "I didn't feel good against Toronto, but I won [4-1, on Monday]. I felt much better tonight, and I didn't win."
Said Orioles manager Johnny Oates: "He looked real good on a lot of pitches. He just got behind on a couple of counts and threw the fastball right down the middle of the plate. He had good stuff."
Three starts after pitching a no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers, Twins right-hander Scott Erickson (4-4) won for the third time in four starts and had a career-high 10 strikeouts. He was lifted in the eighth inning after the Orioles strung three two-out hits against him.
The Orioles staged a four-run rally with two outs in the eighth off Erickson and wild reliever Mike Trombley, but could not overcome the hole dug by Fernandez.
Fernandez, who had not allowed more than three runs in any of his first five starts, allowed as many runs last night as he had allowed in his first five starts combined.
The good news for Fernandez was that he allowed only one single. The bad news? He allowed two home runs, a triple (albeit ceiling-aided), and three doubles.
The Orioles' loss came on the day the first-place Yankees won their ninth straight and second-place Boston pushed its winning streak to four games. The third-place Orioles trail the Yankees by three games and are 1 1/2 games out of second place.
The Twins won for the sixth time in seven games and were backed by a Metrodome crowd of 25,223 that was more animated than usual.
Fernandez came into his sixth start with the Orioles boasting a 1.95 ERA. He came off the mound with two outs in the fifth inning dragging an ERA that had ballooned to 3.41.
Winfield's first home run and fourth of the season, came with one on and nobody out in the fourth. Winfield drove Fernandez's full-count pitch over the fence in left field to give the Twins a 3-1 lead. Left fielder Brady Anderson climbed the fence in pursuit, but it was out of his reach.
Winfield's three-run blast deeper into the seats in left highlighted a five-run fifth inning in which the Twins batted around to take an 8-1 lead.
Winfield's second homer, the 458th of his career, also gave him 1,813 career RBI, putting him one ahead of Frank Robinson, the Orioles assistant general manager who watched from the press box.
It came on the last of 90 pitches by Fernandez, who gave way to right-handed reliever Alan Mills. Pedro Munoz hit a unusual double in which the ball glanced off Leo Gomez's glove and Cal Ripken's leg before settling behind second base. Dave McCarty singled to center to drive in the fifth run of the inning.
Mills allowed one run in three innings, which dropped his ERA from 16.00 to 12.75.
Meanwhile, Oates brought Jeff Tackett, Tim Hulett, Damon Buford and Jack Voigt off the bench in the seventh inning to rest Hoiles, Ripken, Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro, who had extended his hitting streak to 17 games, matching the longest this season in the American League.
The reserves rallied for four runs in the eighth. Voigt hit a run-scoring single, Mark McLemore forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk, and debuting Mark Smith drove in two runs with his first major-league hit, a bloop single behind second base.
The highlight for Fernandez came in the second inning when he struck out the side and left Pedro Munoz stranded at third. Munoz had reached on a leadoff triple that center fielder Mike Devereaux lost in the lights that hang from the Metrodome ceiling. Fernandez struck out McCarty, Matt Walbeck and Pat Meares to escape with the score tied.
Back-to-back doubles by Chris Hoiles and Leo Gomez in the second inning tied the score 1-1 after the Twins had scored in the first off Fernandez. Chuck Knoblauch greeted Fernandez with a double to left, took third on Scott Leius' grounder to second and scored on Kirby Puckett's sacrifice fly to right.