DENVER — DENVER - Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley walked into the visitors' dugout at Coors Field yesterday afternoon with a disgusted look on his face. Denver was covered in clouds, and the Rocky Mountain air felt like rain.
For years, Crowley had been hearing about the hitters' paradise that is Coors Field. He had never been here, but he knew it was a place where lazy fly balls magically turn into home runs. A place where a struggling offense can get well in a hurry.
But throw in some bad weather, Crowley said, and the place actually plays like a regular old ballpark. Even with these two pitching staffs, there would be no cheapies on this night.
Five hours later, Crowley sounded prophetic, as the Colorado Rockies punished Sidney Ponson on a night he didn't pitch all that badly and kept the Orioles' bats mostly quiet in a 5-3 victory.
After a 27-minute rain delay, the game-time temperature was 48 degrees, and the Orioles never warmed up as they suffered their sixth consecutive loss and fell into a tie for last place in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"There's not a lot of positives right now," said B.J. Surhoff, who joined the list of walking wounded when he left the game with a strained left calf muscle. "We've got to continue to play. No one's going to feel sorry for us."
The Rockies sure didn't. Stuck in last place themselves, they broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning on Mark Sweeney's run-scoring double and pulled away with three more runs in the fifth.
The Orioles got a bases-empty home run from Rafael Palmeiro in the fourth inning and another from newcomer David Newhan in the ninth, but their overall offensive slump continued.
They have scored just 13 runs in these past six losses.
"I don't know if they're trying too hard or what," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "It's not from a lack of trying. If I could give you an answer, I would."
Ponson (3-9) didn't give up a home run, but he did give up five runs in seven innings and lost his sixth consecutive start. Four of the runs were earned, so his ERA actually dropped to 6.49.
For the third time this season, Ponson declined to speak to the media after the game.
"I thought Sidney threw the ball well, I really do," Mazzilli said. "You don't want to pin [a loss] on anyone. It's just that you had the opportunities [offensively] that were missed."
Rockies starter Shawn Estes (7-3) held the Orioles to two runs on seven hits in seven innings.
Once again, the Orioles mangled some of their best chances. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Forced to bat in the National League park, Ponson came up with two men on base in the second and fourth innings, but struck out feebly both times.
In the most glaring failure, they loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, only to have Javy Lopez bounce a ball straight back to Estes, who started a 1-2-3, inning-ending double play.
"For some reason, we're just not getting it done," said Jay Gibbons, who went 0-for-4 and popped weakly to third base with one out and Lopez on third base in the eighth. "When we get the pitcher on the ropes, we've got to put him away."
The forecast figures to brighten here the next two days, but the Rockies will finish the series with two more left-handers, Jeff Fassero and Joe Kennedy. Counting Estes, the Orioles are 6-14 in games started by lefties this season.
And someone forgot to tell them the American League was dominating interleague play. The Orioles fell to 2-8 against the lowly NL West.
Entering yesterday, the rest of the AL was 68-47 vs. the NL.
This one didn't exactly have the greatest billing. It was a battle of the two worst pitching staffs in baseball in the rarefied air of Coors Field.
The Orioles came in with the worst ERA in the AL (5.42), and the Rockies countered with the worst in the NL (6.26).
But in the end, it wasn't the offensive showcase everyone expected. Crowley had the sinking feeling it wouldn't be from the moment he stepped outside.
Opponent: Colorado Rockies
Site: Coors Field, Denver
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Eric DuBose (4-5, 5.80) vs. Rockies' Jeff Fassero (0-6, 5.24)