CHICAGO -- The long-awaited 1991 debut of right-hander Ben McDonald was not exactly worth the wait, though the Baltimore Orioles are glad to have their most valuable starting pitcher back in the rotation.
The trouble is, the Chicago White Sox were just as happy to have had him on the mound for their first night game at the new Comiskey Park, especially after they turned the lights out on his first start after just 4 2/3 innings and scored an 8-7 victory.
McDonald was not sharp enough to take advantage of a solid offensive performance that featured home runs by Glenn Davis and Cal Ripken and production from throughout the Orioles batting order.
White Sox starter Alex Fernandez wasn't much better. He came into the game with a 7.56 ERA and added to it with a seven-inning, six-run performance (7.63), but recorded his second victory in three decisions anyway.
Ripken finally sent him packing with a leadoff homer in the eighth -- his fourth homer of the year -- and the Orioles had the go-ahead run at the plate in Davis against White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen in the ninth, but the comeback came up short.
"I'll take that [offensive performance] most of the time," manager Frank Robinson said. "I liked the way we kept battling and put runs on the board late in the game. We haven't done that. We just came up a run short."
McDonald usually doesn't need seven runs to win, but he has spent much of the past month trying to work his arm back into shape after a strained flexor muscle knocked him out of action late in spring training. He gave up six earned runs on six hits and four walks to take the loss.
"I just couldn't get my rhythm tonight," McDonald said. "I think as the season goes on over the next few games, I'll get back to where I should be. I'm discouraged, but I'm not going to let it get me down.
"The guys scored the runs for me. That's the worst thing. I got the runs to win."
McDonald had been the scheduled starter for Sunday's game against the Texas Rangers, but was scratched early because of the inclement weather that eventually postponed the game.
His start last night also was tentative, which subjected the Orioles' most prized pitcher to a healthy dose of clubhouse ribbing ("Ooh, it's so-o-o cold, Ben, are you sure you want to go out there?") while he prepared himself to pitch.
Dave Johnson was on call, just in case it was too rainy or too cold for McDonald to risk his questionable elbow, but the weather was not a factor. Johnson will pitch tonight instead. McDonald took the mound on schedule and retired the White Sox in order in the first inning.
Davis, making his major-league debut in the designated hitter spot, had staked McDonald to a two-run lead in the top of the first with a line drive deep into the left-field bleachers, but his third home run of the year only kept the Orioles on top for an inning and a half.
The White Sox scored three times in the second, all of them after there were two out. Designated hitter Matt Merullo reached base with a one-out single, but after Dan Pasqua drew a two-out walk, Ozzie Guillen cut the Orioles lead in half with an RBI single, and Scott Fletcher put the White Sox ahead with a two-run double.
McDonald collected himself for a couple of innings, but his control was suspect throughout. He walked batters in four of the five innings he appeared in and eventually paid with the decision when first baseman Frank Thomas brought the White Sox from behind again with a two-run home run in the fifth.
It was the first White Sox home run at the new Comiskey Park and it knocked McDonald out of the game. He worked 4 2/3 innings and gave up six runs on six hits, throwing 106 pitches in his first start against major league competition since March 21.
"He wasn't as sharp as you'd like to see him," Robinson said, "but it was all right for the first time out. He was just behind a lot of hitters and didn't have command of his curveball.
The Orioles had come back to tie the game in the fourth, scoring a run on back-to-back two-out hits by Dwight Evans and Randy Milligan. Evans pulled a ground ball through the infield and came around to score on Milligan's double up the alley in left-center.
Fernandez struggled again in the fifth. He gave up a one-out single to Bill Ripken and walked Mike Devereaux to set up an RBI single by Joe Orsulak. Cal Ripken drove in the second run with a fielder's choice to give McDonald his second two-run lead of the game.
Orsulak also had a single in the first inning, giving him his first multihit game of the season. He came in with just two hits in his first 15 at-bats (.133) but raised his average to a slightly more respectable .200 with his 2-for-5 performance.
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
Orioles starter: Dave Johnson (1-1, 5.23)
White Sox starter: Jack McDowell (2-1, 3.48)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
TV: Channels 2, 20