ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Orioles were invited to a playoff race last night. As proper guests, they made little noise, broke no china and left early.
The Anaheim Angels righted themselves from a 2-5 road trip by silencing the peach-fuzzed Orioles, 2-1, at Edison International Field. They became the first team beaten by Russell Ortiz since Aug. 8 because they managed nothing more than three hits.
The loss returned the scrappy but power-starved Orioles to 14 games below .500 while keeping alive the dead-arm Angels' flickering wild-card hopes.
Starting pitcher Pat Rapp (7-11) extended the Orioles' recent run of competent pitching by allowing six hits and two earned runs in six innings. Combined with two innings of shutout relief by B. J. Ryan and Mike Trombley, Rapp lowered the staff's ERA over the past 20 games to 3.80. That they have only tread water during the span suggests the Orioles' offensive liabilities.
Right fielder Albert Belle remained out of the lineup last night, two days after undergoing an examination in Baltimore by a pair of orthopedic doctors.
Belle's absence allowed third baseman Cal Ripken to hit cleanup for the first time since August 1997 when the Orioles were wrapping up a wire-to-wire division title.
Last night's lineup included five players who spent most of their season in the minor leagues and a sixth (Ripken) making his first start in the field since June 27.
Ripken gave a solid accounting but continues to run carefully. He dove to his left to take a hit away from Tim Salmon in the third inning. Ripken led off the seventh inning with a drive that pushed center fielder Garret Anderson to the warning track. His 0-for-3 night dropped Ripken's average to .294 since coming off the disabled list Sept. 1 but did nothing to suggest he is incapable of contributing.
"On that dive, he jarred himself a little bit," manager Mike Hargrove said. "If he's able to do it, he'll be in there tomorrow as designated hitter. We'll see. I'd call it 50-50 right now."
True to Hargrove's pre-game prediction, Ripken left after three plate appearances to make way for Ryan Minor.
In a less-than-unappealing matchup of plus-5.00 ERAs, Rapp and Ortiz (5-5) proved dominant. Rapp surrendered a second-inning run on three singles, gained a tie on rookie first baseman Chris Richard's 434-foot home run in the fifth inning, then fell behind again on Angels shortstop and No. 9 hitter Benji Gil's sixth home run, an opposite-field shot.
Richard's home run came before about 30 friends and family, including his father, who watched his son perform in a major-league game for the first time.
"It's fun to do something like that in front of a lot of people you know," said Richard, who pointed out his following in the upper deck as he rounded third base. "I'm sure that won't happen every time I do something, but tonight it was pretty exciting."
Rapp handed the game to Ryan after six innings and 115 pitches with his fifth consecutive quality start - six innings or more with three earned runs or less. However, he is 1-4 in the span because the Orioles have supported him with 19 runs.
"I'm just going out there to pitch the best I can," Rapp said. "I'd like to be here next year to see how this all turns out. But if I'm not in their plans, I need to show everybody else what I can do."
Ortiz reversed a disastrous stretch that had taken his ERA from 4.83 to 6.19 in four starts. The latest saw him surrender nine earned runs in two-thirds an inning against Chicago last Sunday. Ortiz had allowed at least eight runs in two of his last four starts. But a diluted lineup managed only singles by Mark Lewis and Brook Fordyce besides Richard's homer.