MINNEAPOLIS -- Erik Bedard's walk off the mound was nearly as brisk as manager Sam Perlozzo's trip to get him. Bedard hung his head, fixated on the Metrodome turf all the way until he disappeared into the Orioles' dugout, a potential statement victory for himself and his team in their showdown with Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana leaving with him.
The Orioles knew how improbable beating Santana on his home field was, but there they were in the fourth inning last night, on the one day of the baseball season every major league team harbors hope and optimism, leading by a run with their burgeoning ace on the mound.
They didn't expect Bedard, in the first Opening Day start of the 28-year-old left-hander's career, to out-pitch Santana, viewed by most as the game's best. But in front of a sellout crowd and a national television audience, they didn't foresee what eventually happened, either.
Nearly unhittable for much of spring training, Bedard first lost the lead and then his command, as the Orioles fell, 7-4, before 48,711, their league-best Opening Day winning streak halted at six games.
"A lot of emphasis is put on Opening Day," said first baseman Aubrey Huff, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI double off Santana in his Orioles debut. "You are never as good as you think. You are never as bad as you think. It's just magnified on Opening Day. It's a long season. It is what it is. Bedard -- I'll take him every day. I've faced him a hundred times. He's going to be lights out more often than not."
In their first Opening Day on the road since 1995 and their first in a non-strike/lockout season since 1980, the Orioles battled Santana admirably, scoring four runs on seven hits in six innings off the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
But they were powerless to overcome a poor outing by Bedard, who coughed up a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning and allowed three runs in the fifth. Santana remained unbeaten at the Metrodome in his past 24 regular-season starts, with his last loss there coming in August 2005. During that span, he is 17-0 with a 2.08 ERA.
In the matchup between two of the best left-handers in the American League, Bedard, the Orioles' undisputed ace after his 15-11 season a year ago, surrendered six runs on 10 hits, including two home runs, in just 4 2/3 innings.
"I threw some good pitches and I threw some bad pitches. They hit them both," said Bedard, who said that he wasn't nervous. "They hit pretty much every gap on the field. You have to tip your hat to them. I'll get 'em next time."
Reigning AL Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau did the most damage off Bedard, going 3-for-4 against his fellow Canadian native. He hit the first of back-to-back homers off Bedard -- Torii Hunter hit the second -- in the second inning and finished with two RBIs.
The Twins scored the go-ahead run off Bedard in the fifth inning when catcher Paul Bako, playing in place of Ramon Hernandez, who is likely out for the series with a strained left oblique muscle, couldn't handle Bedard's high fastball.
The passed ball gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead that ballooned to 6-3 after Morneau hit an RBI single and Hunter a run-scoring double. Hunter's hit ended Bedard's evening.
"With the way he threw the ball -- he was lights out almost all of spring training -- unfortunately, he was probably due for an outing where he didn't have his command," Bako said. "But he is our ace. He knows that. We know that and we expect him to come back next time and pitch the way he can."
Though Perlozzo and the players weren't saying it, the Orioles' first Opening Day loss since 2000 reeked of a missed opportunity, especially after the Orioles fought back from a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the fourth inning, all coming off RBI doubles.
Huff drove in the Orioles' first run of the season with a double in that inning, and Jay Gibbons and Corey Patterson followed with run-scoring doubles of their own. By the time the top of the fourth inning ended, the Orioles had a 3-2 lead and some of the invincibility that had surrounded the Twins pitcher, who led the majors last season in wins, ERA and strikeouts, was gone.
"When we were winning 3-2, I thought we [had] it," Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora said. "But they came back. They had pretty good pitches to hit and they weren't missing them. I think [Bedard] did what he was supposed to do, locate his pitches. But they have pretty good hitting over there."
Miguel Tejada accounted for the Orioles' final run with a long bases-empty homer in the sixth. That cut the Twins' lead to 6-4, but Tejada made an error in the bottom of the inning that pushed Minnesota's advantage back to three runs. It also marred what was a solid 1 2/3 innings by reliever John Parrish in his first appearance since 2005.
The Twins tied the game at 3 in the fourth on Jeff Cirillo's single, but right fielder Nick Markakis cut down the potential go-ahead run at the plate. On the play, Morneau collided with Bako, bloodying his chin in a collision at the plate. Morneau appeared to hit Bako with his left elbow.
Bako, who stayed in the game after a minor delay to get the cut bandaged, wouldn't say if he felt it was a cheap shot.
"It's nothing," Bako said. "I didn't see a replay. You just catch the ball and try to make the tag. I have no idea what transpired."
Neither did the Orioles, who fared about as well as they could have expected against Santana, only to watch their own ace give it away.
"We didn't expect to get shut out," Perlozzo said. "I thought our pitcher would have been better, but it's just Game 1. I saw some good signs out there."