TORONTO - Bruce Chen didn't simply come out of the gate slowly last night. He hung back, admiring the view, contemplating the dangers of living the high life in the strike zone.
A game began and Chen wasn't in it, at least not how the Orioles needed. He faced three batters and trailed by three runs. Two batters later, he trailed by four.
Recovery never came to the Orioles, who didn't get their offense through customs and began their latest road trip with an 11-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, where they pulled off a sweep in their first visit two months earlier.
Chen didn't pitch in that series. He didn't contribute much to this one, either, allowing a season-high six runs while losing for the third time in four starts.
"It seemed like he got all his off-speed stuff up tonight," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It seemed like he was fighting himself to get down in the zone."
The Orioles (41-28), unable to move 15 games above .500 for the first time this season, are trying to avoid losing their third straight road series. They had won six and split two others this season before dropping two of three interleague games to both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.
Eli Marrero hit his fifth home run, his first since coming to the Orioles in a trade with the Kansas City Royals. His two-run shot reduced Toronto's lead to 4-2 in the second inning, but Blue Jays starter Ted Lilly retired 18 of the last 20 batters he faced.
Luis Matos reached third base with one out in the fifth, but he broke for home on Sal Fasano's bouncer to the mound and was tagged out in a rundown.
"That's a big run," Mazzilli said. "Sometimes you get caught in the middle. It's a tough read."
A win over the Blue Jays on April 23 gave the Orioles sole possession of first place in the American League East, where they've stayed for 59 straight days. At least Lilly (5-7) couldn't change that fact, though the way he pitched, anything seemed possible.
Only two base runners reached against him after Marrero's homer. Matos doubled in the fifth and Miguel Tejada walked in the sixth, neither player able to score. Lilly allowed three hits over seven innings, including No. 2,982 for Rafael Palmeiro, and struck out 10.
"When he's on his game, he's going to get outs," said Fasano, who wore an ice pack on his left hand after jamming it in the seventh. "He didn't make mistakes up. When he was up, it was planned."
Chen (6-5) was attempting to join Sidney Ponson as a seven-game winner for the Orioles, but he lost for the first time in six career games against the Blue Jays. He pitched seven shutout innings against the Houston Astros in his previous start to win for the first time in almost a month.
The Astros collected only three hits off Chen. He gave up that many to the first three batters he faced last night.
Reed Johnson reached on an infield hit after his high chopper eluded shortstop Tejada, who charged the ball and tried to make a barehanded grab. Alex Rios singled, and both runners scored when Vernon Wells turned on a changeup for his 14th homer.
After a strikeout, third baseman Aaron Hill hit his first major league home run to increase the Blue Jays' lead to 4-0 and leave Chen waiting for another ball from plate umpire Mark Wegner.
"He left a couple balls up, and these guys are an up-hitting team," Fasano said. "You can't mess around. He needs to be from the knees down and he just happened to get some in the mid-thigh area. That's a danger area. We all know that."
The building formerly known as SkyDome has been good to Chen. It was there that the left-hander registered his first complete game last September. He had been 2-0 in three road appearances against the Blue Jays, who scored twice in the fifth to increase their lead.
Rios led off with a single, and Shea Hillenbrand's one-out double produced another run. Hillenbrand came home when second baseman Brian Roberts raced into shallow right field but couldn't pull down Hill's sinking liner.
Gone after the fifth, Chen matched his shortest outing of the season.
"Sometimes I have a tendency to be lazy and not finish my pitches," he said. "I can't live up [in the zone]. I don't throw hard enough."
Mid-game exits are a rarity for Chen, who has lasted six or more innings in 12 of his 14 starts. Steve Reed replaced him last night and surrendered three runs in the seventh without recording an out. He was charged with another one after he left, increasing the Blue Jays' lead to 10-2.
"I made some bad pitches in the first inning," Chen said. "I was trying to keep the ball down, get in a groove, but they got me early and they got me good."
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site, time: Rogers Centre, Toronto, 7:07
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (6-2, 4.21) vs. Blue Jays' Gustavo Chacin (6-4, 3.39)