When the rains came in the top of the third inning, Russ Ortiz was on the ropes. He had already squandered a three-run lead in what manager Sam Perlozzo deemed an important start in as sessing the veteran's future in the rotation.
He did not return to the mound following a delay that lasted nearly an hour and a half. Did the club see enough to decide his days in the Orioles' rotation are numbered?
The question will mostly likely be answered in the coming days by Perlozzo, who was ejected in the eighth inning last night by home plate umpire Ted Barrett for arguing balls and strikes. The Orioles were beaten, 5-4, by the Oakland Athletics before 20,827 at Camden Yards, failing to secure their first four-game winning streak of the season.
Reliever Eddy Rodriguez, who took the mound following the delay, cost the Orioles (44-52) with his wildness, surrendering two runs in the fourth without giving up a hit. He walked two and then given the chance to turn an inning-ending double play, he fielded a comebacker and threw wildly into center field, the error scoring Jay Payton and breaking a 3-3 tie.
Mark Kotsay's RBI groundout made the score 5-3 and turned out to be the winning run.. The Orioles got one back in the sixth on rookie Nick Markakis' double, but were shut down the rest of the way by Oakland's bullpen. Huston Street pitched the ninth for his 20th save, retiring Melvin Mora with Markakis on third to end the game.
Oakland allowed starter Esteban Loaiza, who slogged through the first innings, to continue when the tarp came off. He settled down and picked up his fourth win, allowing seven hits and four earned runs and striking out six through 5 1/3 innings.
The Orioles gave Ortiz a 3-0 lead, scoring once in the first on Jeff Conine's run-scoring single, his 1,000th career RBI, and twice in the second on Kevin Millar's home run. Millar's two-run homer to left field was his seventh of the season and his first since June 5.
But Ortiz, who cruised through two hitless innings, gave it all back in a matter of a few swings. Jay Payton led off the third with a triple. Shortstop Bobby Crosby then hit an Ortiz changeup into the left-field bleachers for a two-run home run. Oakland's No. 9 hitter, second baseman Mark Ellis, then followed with a game-ty ing home run, depositing an Ortiz pitch almost exactly where Crosby's homer landed.
Ortiz finally got his first out in the frame as third baseman Mora made a nice play to get Jason Kendall. But Ortiz then created a scary moment with an errant fastball that caught the A's Kotsay on the right earflap of his helmet.
Kotsay appeared stunned at first when he was tended to by Oakland's trainer. When teammate Milton Bradley took off his helmet, Kotsay's right ear was bleeding. However, he stayed in the game.
When home plate umpire Barrett called for the tarp with two outs and a man on in the third, Ortiz approached Kotsay to see if he was OK.
Ortiz did not return following the one-hour, 27-minute rain delay, and his future in the rotation remains cloudy. Recent call-up Rodriguez came on and walked two before getting Nick Swisher on a flyout to right to end the inning.
That left Ortiz's line at three earned runs on three hits, including two home runs, through 2 2/3 innings. In three starts with the Orioles, Ortiz is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA. He has given up 12 earned runs and 20 hits in 12 innings.
Perlozzo had indicated in recent days that Ortiz will need to pitch better to remain in the rotation.
"I just want him to be competitive, get us deeper in the game and give us some hope that he can help us out." Perlozzo said before the game. "I am trying to think positive, think that he's going to do well. I think he's getting better each time. It just needs to translate in the game."
Perhaps, the rain gave Ortiz a reprieve last night, but the reality is the Orioles don't have a lot of options for their rotation either.
Rodrigo Lopez is on the trading block with as many as 10 teams interested. At this point, it appears that Lopez could stick around long enough to make his next start on Saturday.
Hayden Penn, one of the organization's top pitching prospects, has made just two rehab starts and his arm strength is still not at 100 percent, following his stay on the disabled list following an appendectomy.
And the Orioles' other top pitching prospect, Adam Loewen, still hasn't gone six complete innings in six starts.