SEATTLE -- Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez, the two staff aces whose arms were expected to dominate this game, were already in the clubhouse after a particularly difficult night, leaving a close game in the hands of the Orioles' bullpen.
For a second straight day, that scenario proved disastrous for the Orioles. The Seattle Mariners scored four runs in the eighth inning, all with two outs, as Ichiro Suzuki's double off John Parrish broke a tie and sent the Orioles to their fourth straight loss, a 7-4 defeat before an announced 19,090 last night at Safeco Field.
With the Orioles nursing a 4-3 lead, Jamie Walker pitched a scoreless seventh and Chad Bradford appeared to be on the way to doing the same in the eighth. But after getting two quick outs, Bradford surrendered consecutive singles, putting men on first and third with two outs.
Seattle manager Mike Hargrove sent left-hander Ben Broussard to the plate to pinch hit for Jason Ellison, prompting Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo to counter with his lone lefty reliever, Parrish. The chess match continued as Hargrove removed Broussard in favor of switch-hitting Jose Vidro.
Parrish fell behind Vidro 3-1 and then watched him bounce a single up the middle to score Yuniesky Betancourt and tie the game. With a 2-2 count, Ichiro hit a double down the left-field line. Jose Lopez followed with a two-run double, putting the game out of reach.
Handed a 4-1 lead by the second inning, Bedard barely managed to hold it through six innings. He allowed eight hits and three earned runs, while striking out seven on 101 pitches. It was his worst outing in over a month, though Bedard deserves credit for holding it together when he clearly didn't have his best stuff.
Bedard was at his best in the fourth after the Mariners, who trailed by just one run, put runners on first and third with one out. Bedard wouldn't allow the tying run to cross the plate, striking out Jose Lopez and Jose Guillen to end the inning. Overall, Bedard closed an otherwise rocky outing by retiring seven straight Mariners.
Hernandez, the hard-throwing right-hander who has drawn comparisons to a young Dwight Gooden, was pounded for four runs in the first two innings as the Orioles hit line drives all around the ballpark. But Hernandez steadied himself and didn't give up a run over his final 3 2/3 innings. He did give up 11 hits and four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
The atmosphere in the Orioles' clubhouse before the game was upbeat, as the frustration after Sunday's one-run loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Vladimir Guerrero's walk-off, two-run homer didn't appear to follow the team on its charter flight to the Pacific Northwest.
Still, Perlozzo acknowledged that Sunday's loss, his team's third straight, was particular tough to swallow.
"It wears on you after a little while," Perlozzo said. "They're all trying and busting their tails ... out there. You just want them to relax. I've seen more in the past 10 days from this club than I've seen in a lot of the clubs in the past 10 years. There is a genuine spirit, fight and determination in that dugout."
During the pre-game meeting that the Orioles have before the first game of every series, Perlozzo applauded his players for their effort and told them it would eventually be rewarded.
"If that continues, good things will start happening," he said. "We just can't [get down] on all the one-run losses. I've seen good things over the past 10 days.
"I take the losses extremely hard. I know these guys take a tough loss. I am sitting there taking it for 25 of them and the coaching staff and the fans. It's not easy, but at the same time, I take pride in the fact that we've been in every game, where we haven't bailed out, we haven't given up."
With a quick look at the pitching matchups, one could easily have concluded that last night was going to be another one of those close, well-pitched games decided on one at-bat or one pitch.
But that's certainly not what was materializing early at Safeco Field.
The Orioles quickly jumped on Hernandez, who continued to struggle since returning from the disabled list. The right-hander was 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA and had opened the season with 17 consecutive scoreless innings when he strained his right elbow. Since his return from the DL, he was 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA entering last night.
Brian Roberts led off the game with a long double. He moved to third on Jay Payton's sacrifice bunt and then scored on Nick Markakis' single to left.
Bedard wasn't any sharper than Hernandez. His first pitch was hit by Suzuki into the right-center field seats, tying the game at 1.
Aubrey Huff began the second inning with a long double to center field. Melvin Mora followed with a single and Ramon Hernandez broke the tie with a sacrifice fly. A double by Corey Patterson and a walk to Roberts loaded the bases. Payton then had an RBI groundout and Markakis extended the Orioles' lead to 4-1 with his second RBI single of the night.
But again, the Mariners answered right back. They got three straight singles to start the second, the last by Willie Bloomquist scoring a run. Bedard did well did get out of the inning without further damage, but his pitch count stood at 40, the same number Hernandez had.
Seattle got another run in the third when catcher Kenji Johjima doubled in Jose Guillen, who had led off the inning with a double.