CHICAGO -- A four-game series that started with so much hope and optimism ended last night with the Orioles leaving town as a beaten team.
Over the past three days following Erik Bedard's two-hit gem on Monday, the Orioles were overwhelmed by the Chicago White Sox in every way. The gap between the two clubs, reflected in the standings alone, was clear again last night, when the White Sox made a three-run deficit disappear in no time at all.
Designated hitter Jim Thome belted two of Chicago's four homers in consecutive innings, including a third-inning grand slam off Russ Ortiz, and tied a career high with six RBIs in the White Sox's 11-8 win over the Orioles in front of 35,266 at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was the sixth loss in eight games for the Orioles (39-48), who scored three ninth-inning runs to make it closer, but none theless fell to a season-high nine games under .500. Late last night, they packed their bags and headed to Cleveland, where they will close out a frustrating first half with a three-game series against the Indians.
The White Sox (56-29) broke open a 7-5 game with-back-to- back homers in the seventh, both off struggling Orioles reliever Todd Williams. Jermaine Dye hit the first, lining a three-run shot into the left-field bleachers. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was named to the All-Star team earlier in the day, beating out Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez among others, then lined a bases-empty shot to right field.
Before Chicago's massive display of power, the momentum of another Orioles loss appeared to change on two defensive plays, one that Miguel Tejada didn't make and one that the Chicago White Sox did.
The Orioles had already taken a three-run lead in the third inning when White Sox center fielder Brian Anderson took off on a full sprint toward the right-center-field gap and denied Hernandez of an RBI extra-base hit. In the bottom half of the inning, Russ Ortiz appeared to be on his way to getting his second out as Juan Uribe bounced a routine grounder to Tejada, who fielded it cleanly.
His throw, however, sailed high, forcing first baseman Kevin Millar off the bag. Four batters later, Thome pounded Ortiz's 3-1 pitch well over the center-field wall.
Tejada could barely watch the events that followed his 12th error of the season in the third. When Scott Podsednik singled to load the bases with no outs, Tejada put his hands on his hips and his glove at his side and stared dejectedly in the crowd. When Ortiz walked Alex Cintron after being ahead 1-2 to force in Chicago's first run, Tejada's head sunk toward the ground.
When Thome's bounced over the first row of shrubs beyond the center-field wall, 447 feet away, setting off fireworks over U.S. Cellular Field, Tejada turned around, his back to home plate, as Thome circled the bases. Ortiz, meanwhile, smacked his glove, knowing that in a span of about 10 minutes, a 3-0 Orioles' lead had become a 5-3 deficit.
Ortiz then allowed a 403-foot two-run blast by Thome, his major league-leading 29th of the season, in the following inning. Combined, Thome's two homers traveled 850 feet.
Making his second outing for the Orioles, Ortiz was removed following Chicago's two-run fifth. He gave up seven runs (six earned), eight hits and walked two, while making 93 pitches.
It's unclear how much he was affected by the error, but he had retired six of seven Chicago hitters before the errant throw.
In two outings for the Orioles, Ortiz, who was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 13, despite the fact that the club had to eat the $22 million remaining on his contract, has given up nine earned runs, 17 hits and six walks in 9 1/3 innings.
Ortiz said after his first start in Atlanta that he was going to give himself a "little leniency" because he hadn't pitched in three weeks, but the 32-year-old right-hander realizes the clock is ticking. Perlozzo has also committed to giving Ortiz a couple of starts to see if he can turn his season around. But the Orioles, at least, are close to having a couple of options for their rotation.
Since being sent down to the minors, left-hander Adam Loewen, one of their top pitching prospects, has pitched 14 scoreless innings. Hayden Penn, another highly touted prospect, is scheduled to make a rehab start on Sunday.
If the losing continues, Penn's and Loewen's return to the big leagues probably isn't far away.
NOTE: Perlozzo said that the Orioles have tentatively set up their rotation for after the All-Star break with Daniel Cabrera starting it off next Thursday versus Texas at Camden Yards, followed by Kris Benson, Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez and then Ortiz.