A second straight sellout crowd and the sixth of the young season came to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in a celebrating mood yesterday.
But the 44,609 who showed up for the conclusion of a highly successful homestand saw a 6-foot-7 party crasher end the festivities on a sour note.
Right-hander Jack McDowell, with help from the home team's unusually generous defense, dominated the first seven innings, as the Chicago White Sox cooled off the Orioles with a 5-2 victory. The win was the seventh in the past eight games for the White Sox, and the Orioles lost for the third time in their past 12 games.
Combined with the Toronto Blue Jays' 4-1 victory over the California Angels last night, the loss dropped the Orioles a game behind Toronto.
"I would rather have gone 8-2, but I'll take 7-3 any time," manager Johnny Oates said of his club's record for the longest homestand of the season. "I don't think we gave it away, but we didn't play our game. When that happens and you're going against the other team's ace, that's a bad combination.
"We just weren't sharp," said Oates. "There were some little things that happened that indicated to me we really weren't completely with it."
If there was any consolation for the Orioles, it wasn't Frank Thomas who did them in this time -- although he was on the receiving end of the day's first gift, when center fielder Mike Devereaux dropped his fly ball in the first inning.
The player who caused the Orioles the most grief was Joey Cora, in the lineup only because second baseman Steve Sax was getting a day off. Cora reached base as many times yesterday (three) as he had all year -- without a hit -- and scored three of Chicago's five runs and drove in another with a sacrifice fly.
"He came into the game struggling, and we walked him twice and hit him once," said Oates.
"I just try to get on base for the big guys any way I can," said Cora. "When you get on base with this team, there's a pretty good chance you're going to score."
Starter and loser Jose Mesa (1-3) struggled with his control from the outset and started his downfall by walking Cora with one out in the first. After Robin Ventura singled to left, Thomas lifted a routine fly to center field. Devereaux could be excused for being stunned by the fact that Thomas hadn't hit a screaming line drive somewhere, as he did much of the weekend.
Like everybody who wasn't busy entering the out on their score sheet, Thomas was shocked when Devereaux dropped the ball. The big first baseman had stopped about 20 feet from first base and begun his retreat to the dugout before realizing that the ball had fallen to the ground.
That loaded the bases for George Bell, who flared a two-run single into right-center. Bell was doubled off first on Dan Pasqua's line drive to Mark McLemore at second base.
Mesa's control problems worsened in the third inning, when he issued three walks. The first went to Cora leading off the inning. Ventura's ground ball to Randy Milligan at first base moved the runner to second.
Then, while Thomas was walking on a 3-1 pitch, Cora stole third and scored on an error by Tim Hulett, who mishandled the throw. Despite another walk, to Pasqua, Mesa escaped further damage. But, after his only easy inning in the fourth, the right-hander got back into trouble, and out of the game, in the fifth.
Cora, who started the game with an .077 batting average (1-for-13) and ended it at .071, was hit by a pitch. Mesa's exit was set up by the second of three hits by Ventura, a single to right-center.
Thomas followed with a sacrifice fly, and when Bell singled to center, Mesa was through for the day. Mike Flanagan got out of the inning by getting Pasqua to ground into a double play, but the left-hander's control problems helped set up the game's final run an inning later.
A physical and mental error combined to put Matt Merullo on first to open the sixth. Milligan was charged with the error, when he didn't hold the line drive to his right -- and Flanagan compounded the situation by failing to cover on the play.
Craig Grebeck's single preceded a walk to Tim Raines, loading the bases. Cora got the run home with a sacrifice fly to short right that Joe Orsulak had trouble handling. After Ventura walked, Storm Davis came in to get Thomas to fly out to end the inning.
While the White Sox were finding various ways to score, McDowell was having no trouble keeping the Orioles off the bases. Through seven innings, Chris Hoiles was the only Oriole to reach, on a third-inning single and a sixth-inning walk.
The Orioles crossed home plate in the eighth. Milligan led off with a walk and, after Chito Martinez struck out, Hoiles doubled over third base and Hulett looped a single to center. But Brady Anderson, who hit the ball hard three times without any results, hit a drive that was caught in deep left by Raines and McLemore grounded out.
Those two runs set up the ninth save of the year for Bobby Thigpen, who pitched the last inning.
It wasn't a very artistic ending to the homestand. The Orioles made three errors for the first time this season -- and the second time in the past 154 games. Mesa threw 39 strikes in 80 pitches, and that seemed to set the tone for the game.
By losing twice to the White Sox over the weekend, the Orioles lost a series at home for the first time this year (they were 4-0-1 in the previous five).
"When Devo [Devereaux] drops a ball -- with all of the other little things that happened out there -- that told us it wasn't going to be our day," said Milligan.
"I don't know who that was out there today," said veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who saw a side of the Orioles he hadn't seen before. "We're not taking them with us on this road trip."
After a day off, the Orioles go to Texas for two games, then move on to Chicago for a three-game series with the White Sox before returning home for six games, three each against Oakland and California.