The Orioles, however, had no such excuses against the Detroit Tigers last night. Ben McDonald walked a career-high seven -- six in the first two innings -- and the Orioles' offense failed time after time to get clutch hits in a 5-3 loss.
That's five losses in a row for the Orioles, who had left Baltimore last weekend seemingly ready to turn the corner and have instead hit a dead end.
It was not the first time that the strike zone eluded McDonald in the early innings. On May 9 in Boston, McDonald walked two and hit a batter in the third inning, his control mysteriously and suddenly disappearing. In his next start, against Detroit May 16, he walked four in 2 2/3 .
He improved notably in his last three starts; over 25 innings, he walked four.
Four walks was precisely how many he allowed in the first inning last night.
Lou Whitaker homered one out into the first inning, on the first pitch, and McDonald lost the strike zone, some of his pitches sailing high and outside by almost two feet.
Travis Fryman, hitting .218, walked. First baseman Cecil Fielder got ahead on the count 3-1, and then crushed a fastball into Tiger Stadium's second deck in left field. McDonald walked Kirk Gibson, and Alan Trammell singled Gibson to third, then stole second.
Franklin Stubbs whiffed, the second out of the inning, and Orioles manager Phil Regan ordered a walk of the switch-hitting Bobby Higginson -- hitless in his last 16 at-bats -- to face right-handed hitting Ron Tingley, batting .182. Regan probably figured that Tingley was more pathetic than Higginson.
And McDonald walked Tingley, forcing in the fourth run of the inning. Chad Curtis flied out to end the first, but already, the Orioles trailed 4-0.
Rafael Palmeiro led off the second with his 13th homer of the year, but McDonald almost gave the run back in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, he walked Fryman, and Regan stalked out to the mound; whatever he said to McDonald and catcher Matt Nokes, he said it angrily, his stare switching from one player to the other and his head jerking up and down with each syllable.
Regan went back to the dugout -- and McDonald walked Fielder. Six walks matched his career high, established in 1992, and McDonald had retired just four hitters. Using his scorecard, Regan swatted at his leg in disgust.
Just as suddenly as McDonald lost the strike zone, he found it. He struck out Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell to end the inning. (Through two innings he had thrown 66 pitches, 40 balls and 26 strikes). McDonald allowed just four base runners over the next four innings. Four runners and no runs.
McDonald's mid-inning reincarnation gave the Orioles a chance to claw their way back into the game, an opportunity they didn't exactly embrace. They failed to capitalize, just as they had done earlier in the week; during one stretch, they were 0-for-31 with runners in scoring position.
Opportunities lost last night:
Third inning, runners at first and second and two outs. Cal Ripken grounded out to third.
Fourth inning, runner at first and one out. Jeff Manto and Andy Van Slyke popped out.
Fifth inning, runner at second and one out. The Orioles went on to load the bases with two outs, helped by back-to-back walks to Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro. Ripken popped to short.
Finally, in the seventh inning, the Tigers thrust runs upon them. The Orioles had no choice but to score. Nokes singled, and advanced to second on a passed ball. Manny Alexander hit a grounder right at third baseman Fryman, but the ball clanked off his glove, bounding toward Trammell. Nokes, one of the slowest Orioles, attempted to advance, a blunder, considering the score.
Trammell, however, bailed out his ex-teammate, skipping his throw to third in the dirt and off Fryman's glove; Alexander ran to third. (Incredibly, Alexander was given a hit, and the error on Trammell's awful throw was charged to Fryman).
Curtis Goodwin grounded out to score Nokes. Anderson walked, and Ripken hit into a fielder's choice, moving Alexander to third. Palmeiro singled off pitcher John Doherty, scoring Alexander. Harold Baines walked, but Manto popped to short, ending the so-called rally.
XTC McDonald, his pitch count nearing 120, started the bottom of the seventh and allowed a lead-off double to Fielder. Lefty Mark Lee relieved McDonald, and Gibson doubled down the right-field line to scored pinch-runner Juan Samuel. It was the Tigers' first hit of the night with a man in scoring position and pushed the lead to 5-3.