The 1991 season has been one disappointment after another for Baltimore Orioles right-hander Ben McDonald, who pitched well last night and still left the game with a pained expression on his face.
Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer Tom Candiotti pitched better. He gave up one hit over eight innings and got hitless help from Tom Henke in the ninth to defeat the Orioles, 3-0, and complete a three-game sweep at Memorial Stadium.
But that was not the only reason for McDonald's discomfort. He pitched eight strong innings, but fell victim to the steamy heat and left with a cramp in his right forearm.
Orioles officials attributed the cramp to dehydration, and who could argue? McDonald was sweating profusely from the first inning on. He had to change his shirt six times during the game.
"I lost 9 1/2 pounds of fluid weight during the game," McDonald said. "I weighed 218 1/2 when I went out there and 209 when I came back. But that [the cramp] has happened to me before, so I wasn't worried about it. It feels fine now."
He was the losing pitcher, even though he gave up just two runs in the first inning and shut down the explosive Blue Jays offense until Gregg Olson took over in the ninth. Olson struggled again, giving up a run on a walk and a bloop single, but the Orioles never were really in the game.
The evening sizzled, but McDonald would have been on the hot seat anyway. He has searched all year for something resembling his 1990 performance, but instead had put together a string of mediocre starts that defy explanation.
"The bottom line is consistency," Orioles manager John Oates said before the game. "There are times when he looks very good. There are innings when he looks like he's unhittable."
Then there are those like the first inning last night, when McDonald gave up singles to Devon White and Roberto Alomar and a two-run double to Joe Carter before recording the first out of the game.
McDonald refused to second-guess himself this time. Two runs over eight innings will do the trick a lot more times than not.
"I don't know what I would have done differently," he said. "White hit a ball past Billy -- I'm always going to establish the fastball early. Then I made a pitch to Alomar and he fought it off for a hit. Carter is Carter. You're not going to get him out every time."
He was very effective from that point on, but there still is the question of consistency. What happened to the overpowering right-hander who put together a string of strong performances after joining the starting rotation for the second half of the 1990 season? McDonald came into last night's game having given up four runs or more in seven of his previous eight starts.
McDonald was 8-5 with a 2.43 ERA in 15 starts last season. He is 5-8 with a 5.00 ERA this year.
Assistant general manager Frank Robinson is ready to chalk it up to the elbow inflammation that placed McDonald on the disabled list twice during the first half of the season.
"I look at it as him having some setbacks," Robinson said. "He has not been able to get in the work that is necessary to be successful up here. He has had to overcome all those things, and everybody has been dissecting him because he isn't doing what he did last year. Now, he's thinking too much."
He didn't have time to think when White pulled a sharp grounder into right field to lead off the game. Alomar followed with a bloop single into left-center, and Carter sliced a double into the right-field corner to score both runners.
The inning might have been worse, but Carter ran himself into an out trying to go to third on the play. Second baseman Bill Ripken took the relay from the outfield and had a choice of throwing to the plate or going after Carter. The play at the plate was a long shot, so he took the easy out at third and probably saved McDonald a run.
Candiotti was acquired by the Blue Jays to bolster their pitching staff for a run at the division title. He has done his part, if his 2.58 ERA as a Jay is any indication, but has a losing record in his 12 starts with the club.
He came in with just one victory in his previous eight starts, which is no surprise when you consider that the Blue Jays scored an average of 2.7 runs in his first 11 starts.
The Orioles have seen him in two uniforms and didn't like either one. Candiotti faced them on May 27 as a member of the Cleveland Indians and gave up one earned run over seven innings. He faced them once in 1990 and shut them out for 6 1/3 innings. Overall against Baltimore, he is 8-4 lifetime with a 2.45 ERA.
The validity of those numbers was not challenged last night. Candiotti gave up a first-inning single to Joe Orsulak, then held the Orioles hitless through the eighth.
Orsulak's 0-for-4 performance Tuesday night had brought his hitting streak to an end at 21 games -- one game short of the longest hitting streak in club history. But not all was lost. He bounced right back yesterday to tie a club record for the shortest hitting streak.
Orioles-Blue Jays scoring
Blue Jays first: White singled to right. Alomar singled to left-center, White to second. Carter doubled to right, White and Alomar scored, Carter out at third, right fielder Martinez to second baseman B. Ripken to third baseman Gomez. Olerud grounded out to third baseman Gomez. Maldonado struck out. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Blue Jays 2, Orioles 0.
Blue Jays ninth: Olson pitching. Gruber walked. Mulliniks fouled out to first baseman Milligan. Gruber stole second. Myers grounded out to first baseman Milligan, Gruber to third. Lee singled to right-center, Gruber scored. Lee stole second. White walked. Alomar fouled out to left fielder Orsulak. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 2 left on. Blue Jays 3, Orioles 0.