As soon as the last pitch that Orioles rookie Jeremy Guthrie will likely throw from a major league mound this season settled into the mitt of catcher Ramon Hernandez, Guthrie headed straight to the dugout. His head was down and his thoughts were so obscured by the pain that he felt in his left side that he forgot about the small group of Orioles who had gathered on the mound behind him.
Guthrie needed just one warm-up pitch to conclude that he couldn't go on, and his largely successful season, one in which he went from waiver-wire pickup to one of the most dominating starters in the American League in the season's first half, was probably over.
A strained left oblique injury forced the rookie right-hander to leave. The Orioles' went on to lose, 3-2, to the Boston Red Sox in the series finale before an announced 39,234 on a beautiful afternoon at Camden Yards.
"It's just unfortunate that it happened," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose team announced earlier in the day that ace left-hander Erik Bedard would miss the rest of the season with a strained right oblique. "Guthrie's had a great rookie campaign. It's unfortunate that the timing of this is at this point in time in the season when our pitching has been so thin."
Center fielder Coco Crisp broke a 2-2 tie with a line single to center off Chad Bradford, scoring J.D. Drew and giving the Red Sox (87-57) all they needed to deal the Orioles another one-run loss, their 28th this season. Hideki Okajima pitched a scoreless eighth, and All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon did the same in the ninth for his 35th save, striking out Scott Moore and Freddie Bynum and leaving the tying run on first base.
The Orioles (61-81), who scored twice off Red Sox ace Josh Beckett on homers by Melvin Mora and Nick Markakis, have assured themselves of a 10th straight nonwinning season. They ended the season series against the Red Sox with a 6-12 record, and have lost 16 of their past 19 games. That leaves them just a game and a half ahead of the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the American League East.
But that was an afterthought after the game to the condition of Guthrie, who winced after throwing a 2-2 fastball to Jason Varitek with a man on in the sixth. That led Trembley, head trainer Richie Bancells, several Orioles infielders and plate umpire Laz Diaz to make the trip to the mound.
After a brief discussion, Guthrie, who had allowed two earned runs over five innings, threw a warm-up pitch. The pain was severe enough that he headed off the mound without consulting with Trembley and Bancells. Guthrie apologized to both after the game.
"It wasn't that I was upset or even maliciously thinking, 'I'm going to walk off here,' " Guthrie said. "I just felt like I was being taken out of the game in the middle of the inning and that's the way my mind was working when I walked off. Hopefully, it didn't come out exactly how it feels, but it was disrespectful to Dave as the manager, to my infielders and to the training staff that was there. That's been killing me. I wanted to get it off my chest."
Guthrie, who secured a no-decision when Markakis homered off Beckett in the sixth to tie the game at 2, said he has been feeling soreness in his left side for his past two or three starts, but the pain became severe on his last pitch to Varitek.
"I just felt the pain there," he said. "I wasn't sure to what extent it was because I've never been removed from a game because of an injury of that sort. The extra pitch was the same. That's when I knew I was coming out. That was the only pitch I've ever thrown where the pain was unbearable."
Both Trembley and Guthrie said after the game that it would probably take a miracle for Guthrie to pitch again this season.
"The experience that everyone else has gone through shows that the recovery does take two or three weeks to even eliminate pain doing nothing," Guthrie said. "If that were the case, I would be done. But I'm going to remain optimistic and hope for a little miracle because I really do want to continue to pitch."
Said Trembley: "I'll go light a candle tonight on the way home and expect a miracle. We'll know more on Tuesday, but I would say it's probably going to be a problem."
Guthrie's injury leaves Daniel Cabrera as the Orioles' lone remaining regular starter, and he's 9-15 with a 5.11 ERA. In the four-game series with Boston, two Orioles starters - Garrett Olson and Guthrie - left with injuries, and one - Cabrera - was ejected.
"This year is a tough year," shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "The season is almost over; we don't want anybody getting injured now. We've just got to keep playing and hope everybody gets better."
If his season ended yesterday, Guthrie, who cost the Orioles a $20,000 waiver claim from the Cleveland Indians this past offseason, will finish 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA. He is winless since July 27, a span of eight starts. However, in five of those starts, he allowed three earned runs or fewer. Before this season, he had made just one start in his major league career. But this season, he made 25 and pitched a career-high 170 1/3 innings.
"I'm grateful for the way it's gone; I'm grateful for the opportunity and being able to pitch well enough in those opportunities to earn the spot and be able to make all those starts," he said. "It's been a year in which I've grown and learned a lot of things as well. In the beginning, there was a lot of success. As there were some adjustments made, I think I've learned a little bit more about myself and the way major league hitters approach the game. Those are the things you need to take into account when you go from year to year and try to improve."