CHICAGO -- The Orioles' clubhouse was quiet, but it had nothing to do with yesterday's 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Baseball had ceased to seem important long before the game was decided.
Infielder Tim Hulett had received the news that his 6-year-old son had been struck by a car and was in critical condition at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. While Hulett rushed back to Baltimore, the rest of the club was required to go through the motions of completing the game, though it was obvious from the post-game scene that no one cared much about the outcome.
"We're praying for him," said a shaken Johnny Oates, the Orioles manager.
The Orioles packed up quickly and headed home from a seven-game road trip that might have been considered successful under different circumstances. They won four of seven games, even though the White Sox came from behind to win the final two games of the three-game series at Comiskey Park.
The game yesterday was delayed by rain for 46 minutes soon after the start of the third inning, which appeared to take a toll on starting pitchers Alex Fernandez and Mike Mussina. Fernandez gave up two runs after the game resumed, and Mussina returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, surrendering a two-run home run to Frank Thomas.
Neither pitcher looked that sharp to begin with. Fernandez had given up two runs in the first inning and Mussina had yielded a two-run double to Craig Grebeck to tie the game in the bottom of the second.
"Sure, [the delay] had an effect," Mussina said afterward, "but my stuff wasn't that good anyway."
Oates removed Mussina after the third inning, ending a string of 27 starts in which he had pitched into the sixth inning. Reliever Alan Mills came on to pitch four strong innings, but the game came apart in the eighth inning for the second time in less than 24 hours.
The Orioles broke the 4-4 tie in the top of the eighth with a sacrifice fly by Leo Gomez, but the first four batters in the bottom of the inning reached base against Mills and Orioles stopper Gregg Olson -- the game turned around on a two-run pinch double by Tim Raines.
Mills would be charged with a run after he hit leadoff man Shawn Abner to open the eighth. Olson came on to give up a single to Lance Johnson and Raines' double, a hard bouncer down the line that was nearly flagged down by first baseman David Segui.
Johnson's single had moved the tying run to third base and Johnson complicated matters further by stealing second, but Oates chose not to walk the dangerous Raines with Grebeck on deck. He was hoping Olson could get past Raines before thinking about setting up for a possible double play.
"I didn't want to load the bases with no one out," Oates said. "I wanted to get an out there. If we load the bases and move the infield back, then you're conceding the tying run."
The book says that you play for the tie at home and for the victory on the road. That's what Oates tried to do. Raines just found a hole and won the game. Grebeck added to the lead with a sharp single through the drawn-up infield.
The White Sox had rallied from a five-run deficit with eight runs in the eighth inning Tuesday night. This was not nearly so dramatic, but it gave them the game and the series. They had slipped into a four-game losing streak and looked as if they would go quietly against the Orioles until Tuesday's turnaround.
Mussina gave up four runs on six hits and a walk, raising his ERA to 2.45 and dropping him into a fifth-place tie with Cleveland's Charles Nagy among the league's ERA leaders. The outing was the shortest of his year-long major-league career.
"I thought about not even letting him go out after the delay," Oates said. "He's not hurting or anything. He was just sluggish after the delay."
Oates left open the possibility that he might move Mussina up in the rotation to keep him from getting out of sync, but he said he hadn't had time to think about it. He had other, far more serious things on his mind.