TORONTO -- He was only 16 back then, a fresh-faced kid with a thick mop of red hair and dreams of pitching in the big leagues. As a batboy for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Jesse Litsch shared a clubhouse with current Orioles Aubrey Huff and Chris Gomez.
He spoke to Gomez often about how badly he wanted to get drafted and pitch in the major leagues. Gomez wished him well and mostly lost track of his progress until Monday, when the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher yelled at him from across the field.
Gomez and Huff had never seen him pitch and had no idea what to expect last night. However, the last thing they expected was the 22-year-old Litsch shutting down the Orioles, coming one out shy of a complete game in his major league debut. Litsch outpitched a sharp Daniel Cabrera, allowing just one run in the Blue Jays' 2-1 victory before 30,958 at Rogers Centre, and sending the reeling Orioles (18-22) to their fourth straight loss.
"It was a little strange," Huff said. "I am happy for the guy. He threw a good game - too bad it was against us."
Of the 26 outs Litsch recorded, 20 came via groundouts. He allowed just four hits and three walks and recorded the longest outing of any starting pitcher making his major league debut for Toronto (17-22).
Litsch, who had never pitched above Double-A before last night when he was called up to start in ace Roy Halladay's normal spot in the rotation, was removed from the game after walking Miguel Tejada with two outs in the ninth.
Toronto manager John Gibbons was booed for taking him out, but those boos quickly turned to cheers when Litsch started his walk toward the dugout under the backdrop of a standing ovation. He later emerged for a curtain call.
Gibbons brought in fill-in closer Jeremy Accardo and he allowed a single to Ramon Hernandez, putting runners on first and third. But Huff grounded out to end a night when the Orioles got eight strong innings from Cabrera.
"It's disheartening to see a guy like [Cabrera] go out there and pitch the way he did tonight and get nothing for it, actually get the loss for it," Huff said. "You can pin that on the offense. We haven't really been swinging the bats with authority. We've been getting our hits here and there, but we haven't been driving the ball. We've got to start coming around a little bit."
Litsch showed some nerves for the first two hitters, walking Brian Roberts on five pitches and then getting behind Nick Markakis before allowing a single. But he threw his biggest pitch of the night to get Tejada, swinging on the first pitch, to ground into a run-scoring double play. The Orioles wouldn't have a runner reach scoring position again until the ninth inning.
"The double play definitely settled me down," Litsch said. "You've got to get your feet wet. Once you get your feet wet, you start to regain control of yourself."
The Orioles grudgingly praised the pitcher, though they seemed more disappointed in themselves and down on their luck than impressed by the youngster.
"I guess his ball was sinking quite a bit, and he had a little deception in his delivery that the guys must've had a little trouble with - or a lot of trouble with, I guess," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.
Said Corey Patterson: "He changed speeds a little bit and worked the ball in and out. And ... like I keep saying over and over again, we hit balls right at people and we got some bad breaks. I'll give him a little credit, but too bad for us."
Actually, it was too bad for Cabrera. He allowed a leadoff home run to Alex Rios and then started a stretch in which he was as dominant as he has been all season. He retired 13 straight Blue Jays from the first to the fourth innings, five on strikeouts.
"I feel very strong in those four innings," said Cabrera, who aside from the pitch to Rios was throwing his fastball at 96 or 97 mph for most of the game. "I feel [confident]. I think that was more aggressive as I've been all season."
However, as he is prone to do, Cabrera lost some of his control. He issued back-to-back one-out walks in the fifth, but pitched his way out of it. The tall right-hander was unable to do the same in the sixth after handing out a leadoff walk to Rios.
Rios moved to second on Adam Lind's groundout and then scored when Troy Glaus, who won Monday's series opener with a tie-breaking, two-run, eighth-inning homer, dropped an RBI single in front of right fielder Markakis.
"You know what happened? He had a base-on-balls, and I think he let it get to him just a hair," Perlozzo said. "When he comes back and throws another couple strikes, he's back in his groove again. I think that's what happened."
Cabrera got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh and then pitched a perfect eighth. It counted as the Orioles' first complete game of the season.
"I tried to do everything to win the game," said Cabrera, who is 3-4. "Like I said before, everything in the game is about winning."