CHICAGO — Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter grasped for answers after his team’s 8-1 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Orioles’ run of success on the road – filled with late-inning dramatics, plenty of home runs and clutch pitching – came to a crashing halt Wednesday evening on Chicago’s South Side. The Orioles, who entered the night 4-1 midway through their three-city, 10-game road trip, suffered their worst defeat on the road this season.
Hunter struggled in his second consecutive start, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. He matched a career high with eight strikeouts, but also walked four, also tying a career-high. The eight runs were the most Hunter’s allowed since he yielded eight against the Angels on July 30, 2010.
“(I) didn’t have a fastball,” Hunter said. “You get hit when you don’t have one. That’s just the bottom line. I’ve got a couple bullpens coming up and the emphasis is going to be down in the zone. I’ll find my fastball, I will find it. It will come. Just got to reach in my back pocket and pick it out.
“I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what happened [Wednesday]. I got to figure it out, bottom line. You got to throw strikes and you got to throw strikes down in the zone to win a ball game in the big leagues.”
The 25-year-old allowed a pair of home runs and he’s allowed six homers in his past two starts. Hunter allowed four homers, tying his career-high, in a 7-5 comeback win at Toronto.
The Orioles couldn’t recover from the first home run Wednesday, a two-run shot by hot-hitting catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning that followed a leadoff single by Paul Konerko.
Pierzynski took Hunter’s first delivery – a high 90-mph fastball – down the right-field line and off the foul pole for his fourth homer of the season.
“It was a ball right down the middle of the plate that any big league hitter would be able to do that,” Hunter said. “I’m not taking anything away from Pierzynski, he put a good swing on it, tip your cap.”
Hunter prevented further damage that inning, stranding two runners.
“Tommy kept backing himself into at-bats against the people you don't want to have people on base against, and that was really a killer because Konerko and Pierzynski is as hot a hitter as there is in baseball right now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's seeing the ball real well. And Konerko's been doing it for a long time. We kept backing ourselves into situations where the at-bat was coming to them and you can't keep doing that."
The White Sox went up 3-1 on Alex Rios’ sacrifice fly in the third, but Hunter left two more base runners in the inning. He then allowed a solo homer to White Sox lead off hitter Alejandro De Aza in the fourth.
Hunter left a 5-1 game with the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth inning, giving way to left-hander Troy Patton.
Patton worked ahead of left-handed hitter Adam Dunn 1-2, but Dunn hit a full-count pitch down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double, giving the White Sox an 8-1 lead.
"We missed a sign there,” Showalter said. “Matt was expecting a breaking ball and got a fastball, so we've got to do a better job with that. But that was a good swing by Adam Dunn. He hit it about the only place he could hit it. He's too productive of a hitter over his career not to at some point hurt you."
The Orioles hit six homers in the first two games of this series. White Sox starter Jake Peavy held the Orioles to just four hits over seven innings of work, striking out eight Baltimore batters.
“For the most part he was throwing all his pitches for strikes in any count and any situation,” Orioles designated hitter Nick Markakis said of Peavy. “You didn’t see too many 3-2 or hitter’s counts. You didn’t see too many fastballs. He had his off-speed stuff working and he threw it for strikes when he wanted to and when he needed to. He got out of some jams when he needed to.”
The Orioles scored their only run in the second inning, when right fielder Endy Chavez doubled home Adam Jones, who hit a lead-off double.
Following Chavez’s double, the Orioles didn’t do much offensively.
They reached second base just twice – both times on errors. Nolan Reimold hit a sixth-inning, two-out single, then moved to second on an error on White Sox third baseman Brent Morel. In the eighth, Chris Davis hit a one-out single and two batters later went to second on an Alexi Ramirez error.
Davis was thrown out trying to steal third in that inning, the second time an Orioles inning was stymied on the basepaths. In the fourth inning, the White Sox ended the inning on a strike-out, throw-out play when Peavy struck out Matt Wieters swinging and Pierzynski threw out Jones stealing second.
The Orioles were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
“It was tough, but that’s baseball,” Markakis said. “We’ll come out [Thursday] and look to win the series and move on from there. We need to come out tomorrow and do what we’ve been doing and score some runs and Hammel’s going to go out there and give us a good outing and hopefully we’ll come out on top [Thursday].”
One of the few Orioles highlights, third baseman Mark Reynolds made a pair of nice plays in the field, including one in the seventh, snagging a chopper off the bat of Pierzynski and throwing him out across his body while in foul ground.