As the umpires huddled about 10 yards away, Houston Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte tried to stay sharp, soft tossing pitches to catcher Brad Ausmus, hoping to maintain the form that allowed him to plow through the Orioles' lineup for 5 2/3 innings.
But in the five minutes that the consultation, initiated by Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli, lasted, something changed drastically for both Pettitte and the Orioles. When play resumed, the Orioles' bats suddenly didn't look so defenseless.
Melvin Mora hit an RBI single and Miguel Tejada slammed a two-run home run as the Orioles scored three two-out runs in the sixth and three more runs in the eighth to put away Pettitte and the Astros, 6-1, before 24,659 last night at Camden Yards.
Mazzilli was challenging whether Lance Berkman's brief discussion with Pettitte, which came after Berkman was injured and headed to the visiting dugout to see Astros manager Phil Garner and the team's trainer, constituted a mound visit. Regardless, it worked wonders for the Orioles (38-26), who needed the victory to stay three games up on Boston.
"You can't do that. That's a visit," Mazzilli said of the discussion.
Did he do it to throw Pettitte off-stride?
"I'd like to think I was that smart, but I don't think I am," Mazzilli said. "But it turned out. Andy is a professional. He knows what's going on."
But on this night the former Yankee was the second-best left-hander on the mound.
Bruce Chen (6-4) picked up his first win since May 18 by throwing seven scoreless innings. Without his best stuff, Chen scratched and clawed through 112 pitches, allowing just three hits but walking four. He was the recipient of several sterling defensive plays, including Eli Marrero's diving catch in shallow left-center field to save two runs and end the sixth.
Steve Reed, who hasn't allowed an earned run in his last six outings, worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the eighth by allowing just one run. Chris Ray, whose contract was purchased from Double-A Bowie on Monday, made his major league debut in the ninth, putting away the Astros (26-37) while allowing just one hit. Ray's first pitch registered 97 mph on the stadium radar gun.
Tejada had two hits, including his 18th home run, which he punctuated by throwing his fist up in the air before he reached first. Sammy Sosa was 2-for-4 and gave the Orioles an insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth. Larry Bigbie was 3-for-3 and is now 6-for-7 since coming off the disabled list on Monday. Bigbie is now 11-for-14 lifetime against Pettitte (3-7).
Only fellow Astro Roger Clemens, who didn't make the trip to Baltimore because he's not scheduled to pitch in the three-game series, has had more success among active starting pitchers against the Orioles than Pettitte.
The former Yankee entered the game 20-4 with a 3.64 ERA lifetime against the Orioles and had won his past eight starts. He hadn't lost to the Orioles since June 25, 2002, but the Orioles aren't the only team that he's historically dominated. After all, Pettitte, who had won three straight starts to break from an early-season slump, has 158 wins.
Mazzilli sent out a lineup loaded with right-handed hitters, even leaving several left-handers, who have had some success against Pettitte, on the bench. Chris Gomez started at first base, while Rafael Palmeiro's .321 average and four home runs against Pettitte stayed on the bench.
Recent trade acquisition Marrero batted fifth and played center field, and Jay Gibbons (8-for-18 career against Pettitte) was out of the lineup.
Pettitte needed just 30 pitches to work through the first three innings, although he did benefit from some defensive help. Houston center fielder Willy Taveras threw out Tejada trying to stretch a single into a double to end the first.
With Bigbie on first after a single, Astros right fielder Jason Lane made a diving catch to rob Brian Roberts and deny the Orioles in the third.
"I didn't get it done," Pettitte said. "It's another loss and I don't feel good about what I did."
Chen lacked his best stuff from the outset, but had enough guile to get by. By the time the scoreless game reached the top of the fourth inning, Chen had already thrown 45 pitches on a night where the game-time temperature was 93 degrees, although the Astros still didn't have a hit.
Berkman opened the fourth with a single, the Astros' first hit. Lane then stroked a double, giving the Astros men on second and third and one out. But Chen struck out Adam Everett and after walking Brad Ausmus, he got Houston second baseman Eric Bruntlett swinging at a 90-mph fastball.