Sitting in the Orioles" dugout last night, sweat rolling down his face, Hayden Penn grabbed one end of the towel that hung from his neck and stuffed it in his mouth. The game had taken a chunk out of him. It was his turn to clamp down.
Coming off the shortest outing of his brief major league career, Penn made another early exit against the Cleveland Indians. He couldn't get past the fourth inning, couldn't overcome repeated lapses in control, and the Orioles lost for the seventh time in eight games, 9-3, before 27,272 at Camden Yards.
Penn left after 3 2/3 innings with the Indians leading 5-2 and his pitch count at 80. Only 44 were strikes.
Coupled with his beating in Atlanta last weekend, Penn has allowed 12 runs and 15 hits in his past 5 2/3 innings. He has walked five and struck out two.
With the Boston Red Sox idle, the Orioles ( 43-35) slid 2 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East, matching their largest deficit this season. After ending a six-game losing streak Tuesday night with a rousing comeback against the New York Yankees, they began what could quickly become another one last night.
Included in the loss were two more hits for Rafael Palmeiro, giving him 2,992 for his career, and yet another balk call on an Orioles pitcher.
Ron Belliard advanced to third base with two outs in the fourth inning after Penn began to lift his front leg before pausing to check the runner and lowering it, an obvious infraction that resulted in the Orioles" ninth balk this season. Palmeiro took a few steps toward Penn, pounding a fist in his glove for encouragement, and manager Lee Mazzilli visited the mound with a wide grin, another attempt to calm the rookie.
A walk extended the inning, and Grady Sizemore lined a two-run double into left-center field that broke a 2-2 tie. Coco Crisp followed with his third hit, adding another run to Penn's ledger, and Mazzilli rose from the bench to make the change.
Penn had to wait an extra day to pitch after Wednesday night's postponement, giving him more time to ponder his last start. It was a day he"d rather forget.
Removed in the third inning without recording an out on June 24, Penn allowed seven runs and eight hits in a 7-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The game marked his first defeat in the majors after two straight victories.
He fell behind early again last night, allowing a one-out triple to Crisp in the first inning and a run-scoring grounder by Travis Hafner, who has 22 RBIs in his past 13 games. Crisp's ball eluded Sammy Sosa's outstretched glove in right-center field and rolled to the fence.
The deficit didn't last long be cause Indians starter Jake Westbrook didn't throw strikes. He walked the first two batters and allowed consecutive singles to Miguel Tejada - a bloop to right field that loaded the bases - and Palmeiro, whose bouncer up the middle reached center field and gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Tejada pointed to Palmeiro standing at first base, and the gesture was returned. The scoreboard later would flash 2,992, a total that leaves him eight behind Roberto Clemente for 25th place on the all-time hits list. His 1,815 RBIs are 12 behind Al Simmons for 15th place.
Westbrook ( 6-9), who has won four consecutive starts, also walked Luis Matos leading off the second, but he retired the next 10 batters before Sal Fasano hit a bases-empty homer in the fifth. He set down 18 of his last 20.
The Indians tied the game in the third on a two-out single by Crisp that scored Jhonny Peralta, who doubled down the left field line. Penn continued to struggle, home plate moving on him as the bullpen began to stir.
Pitching coach Ray Miller visited the mound after Hafner walked, and he reached for the bullpen phone when Victor Martinez walked to load the bases. As James Baldwin started to get loose, former Oriole Casey Blake struck out looking with the count full.
Penn also went 3-2 on Aaron Boone in the fourth inning before retiring him on a fly ball to shallow center field.
Baldwin gave the Orioles 2M-- scoreless innings, but Jorge Julio was charged with three runs in the seventh, two of them scoing after Steve Reed replaced him. Reed also was charged with a run.