As the umpires huddled about 8 yards away, Houston Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte tried to stay sharp, soft-tossing to catcher Brad Ausmus, hoping to maintain the form that plowed through the Orioles' lineup for 5 2/3 innings.
But in the five minutes the consultation lasted, something changed drastically for both Pettitte and the Orioles. When the bottom of the sixth inning of a scoreless game resumed last night, Orioles hitters suddenly didn't look so confused.
Melvin Mora singled to score Larry Bigbie and Miguel Tejada slammed a two-run home run to give the Orioles a rare three-run lead. They tacked on three more in the eighth off Pettitte to beat the Astros, 6-1, before 24,659 last night at Camden Yards as Bruce Chen was rewarded for seven scoreless innings with his first victory since May 18.
"We just kept battling," said Tejada, who threw his fist into the air after his 18th home run. "When you have your pitcher throwing the ball the way Chen did, you have to help out."
Pettitte brought a 20-4 record against the Orioles into last night's start and an eight-game winning streak before being beaten by them for the first time since June 25, 2002. Only fellow Astro Roger Clemens has had more success among active starting pitchers against the Orioles and through 5 2/3 innings last night, it seemed the home team was headed for another meek outing against the left-hander.
However, with Bigbie on second and two outs in the sixth, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli emerged from the dugout to make sure plate umpire Jim Wolf planned on charging the Astros with a visit to the mound after an impromptu conversation between Pettitte and first baseman Lance Berkman.
Berkman was shaken up after diving to field Brian Roberts' grounder and had ventured toward the visiting dugout to talk to Houston manager Phil Garner and the team's trainer. On his way back to first, Berkman stopped to talk to Pettitte.
"If you do that, it's a trip," Mazzilli said.
The umpires did rule that Berkman's actions constituted a mound visit and Garner after the game, acknowledged that they made the correct call. What was unclear was whether Mazzilli had other motivations in leaving the dugout - say, possibly disrupting the rhythm of a player he knows well from their days as New York Yankees?
"I'd like to think I was that smart, but I don't think I am," said Mazzilli, whose team (38-26) stayed three games up on Boston in the American League East. "Andy is a professional. He knows what's going on."
Pettitte maintained later that he was unaffected by the delay, saying simply that he "didn't get it done. It's another loss and I don't feel good about what I did."
Maybe it was just pure coincidence or the lefty, who turns 33 today, tired on the humid night. But before the delay, the Orioles managed just four hits off Pettitte (3-7). Following it, they had six hits and two walks in their next 14 at-bats.
Rafael Palmeiro officially ended Pettitte's night with a two-run single that gave the Orioles the five-run, eighth-inning lead. In the top of the inning, reliever Steve Reed got the Orioles out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam while allowing only one run.
Chris Ray, whose contract was purchased from Double-A Bowie on Monday, made his major league debut, pitching a scoreless ninth to put away the Astros (26-37).
"Pettitte pitched a great game, but we were just able to get to him," said Bigbie, who is 6-for-7 since returning from the disabled list on Monday. The left fielder was 3-for-3 last night and is now 11-for-14 for his career against Pettitte. "I don't feel that way up there. It's not a comfortable at-bat."
Bigbie went on to credit Chen (6-4) for perservering his way through seven scoreless innings in which he gave up just three hits but walked four. Chen, who had already hit the 75-pitch mark by the fifth and was admittedly tiring, deflected most of the credit to his defense.
"I had a tough time out there, but my defense really came through," said Chen. "The guys behind me were so pumped up. I didn't want to let them down."
The Orioles' defense shined brightest in the sixth. Mora made a daring catch on Berkman's foul pop, which appeared to be destined for a souvenir. Adam Everett hit a sharp liner off the glove of Chen, but Tejada made a one-handed pickup and flipped to Roberts, who was able to lunge for the ball while keeping his foot on the bag, to get the second out.
Then recent acquisition Eli Marrero rushed in and made a diving catch on Ausmus's shallow bloop to left-center, saving two runs
"I thought that Tejada or Bigbie had a better chance, but I just kept running hard," said Marrero. "It was like a triangle out there. It just happened to fall in my glove."