TORONTO -- It's probably far too optimistic to say that the solution to the Orioles' relief problems was pitching last night about 500 miles away from here, where the team experienced its latest bullpen meltdown.
At a minor league park in Bowie, Todd Williams was making his third rehab appearance for the Baysox, pitching another scoreless inning against Double-A opposition. If injuries - first his right shoulder and then his right calf - had not wiped out his entire spring, Williams would have been the likely choice on the mound in the decisive spot at Rogers Centre last night.
Instead, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo handed the ball to Jim Brower after starter Rodrigo Lopez had put a man on with no outs in a tie game in the seventh, and then summoned John Halama after Brower had faltered. The result was a four-run Toronto Blue Jays inning, and the Orioles' third straight loss, a 7-3 defeat in front of an announced crowd of 32,257.
"I was trying to get through that inning," said Perlozzo, who was saving the more-effective Sendy Rleal for the eighth. "That's been a tough inning for us all year, really."
Perlozzo acknowledged after the loss, which dropped the Orioles to 11-10, that the seventh inning was earmarked for Williams, one of the team's most reliable relievers last year with a 3.30 ERA in 72 appearances.
Left-hander Tim Byrdak would be Perlozzo's other option in that inning, but he, too, is injured, leaving the Orioles manager with few options to bridge the gap between his starters and LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Ray, the reliable back end of his bullpen. Williams will pitch again tonight for Bowie and, if all goes well, he could be with the team when it returns from its road trip.
"We've had trouble not having a true left-hander to get a lefty out and our right-handers have struggled in that role," Perlozzo said. "When Todd comes back and he's healthy and he's pitching good, that should help push us back a little better."
Lopez, who later admitted that his arm got tired, allowed a leadoff walk to Russ Adams to open the seventh. Brower came on and got the first out and then walked Frank Catalanotto, putting the lead runner in scoring position.
Brower made several tough pitches that Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells fouled off, then left a slider out in front of the plate. Wells slapped it to left-center field in front of a diving Nick Markakis, and the double gave the Blue Jays a 4-3 lead.
Halama relieved Brower and surrendered a two-run single to pinch hitter Shea Hillenbrand and another RBI single to catcher Bengie Molina, making it 7-3.
"Wells came up and I thought I made some real good pitches," said Brower, whose ERA is 11.45. "I was ahead 1-2, and I went to throw a slider low and away. It was high and away, and he was strong enough where he broke his bat and flipped it into left field.
"It's a frustrating time for me right now, because I feel like when I go out there I can give myself a good opportunity. ... Then this happened. The line score's going to look real bad. I clearly didn't get the job done."
The Blue Jays' seventh-inning rally made a winner of starter Gustavo Chacin, the bespectacled Venezuelan left-hander, who improved to 4-0. He carried a 3-1 lead into the top half of the seventh, but Jay Gibbons tied the game with a two-run homer to center field, his fifth homer of the season.
Chacin allowed six hits and three runs and also was taken deep by Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada. The majors' leading hitter and reigning American League Player of the Week tied the game 1-1 in the fourth by slamming his fifth home run into the second deck in left field.
Tejada, now batting .434, also singled and walked, reaching base in three of his four plate appearances.
Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay had RBI singles in the first and fourth inning for the Blue Jays, who had five hits and four runs off Lopez (1-2), who battled through his latest uneven performance. His leadoff walk to Adams in the seventh was especially critical
"It's definitely not gone the way I expected," said Lopez, whose ERA is 6.97. "I've been having good outings and bad outings but I never have the outing that satisfies me the most yet. I battled, but in the end, I wasn't happy with my performance."
Lopez was far sharper than he was in his last outing when he allowed nine hits and seven earned runs over 4 1/3 innings against Cleveland. The Orioles saved him from a loss, however, with an onslaught of late offense in their 18-9 victory over the Indians. The bullpen couldn't save him last night.
"Having a start like this is horrible," Brower said. "I don't think I'm the only guy having a bad first month. Things haven't gone my way."