On a night when concentration was admittedly difficult, Ben McDonald's memory was jolted by an old nemesis.
Home runs by Jeff Huson and Brian Downing enabled the Texas Rangers to extract a measure of revenge against the big right-hander and defeat the Orioles, 4-2, last night before the usual capacity crowd (45,572) at Camden Yards.
Only six days ago, McDonald (9-7) pitched his strongest game of the year, a two-hit shutout in Texas. But in the rematch last night, the Rangers got the upper hand early and held on, primarily because of the Orioles' inability to capitalize on excellent scoring opportunities.
Three times -- in the third, fourth and sixth innings -- the Orioles had a runner on third base and were unable to score. During the course of the evening they hit into three more double plays, giving them a staggering total of 13 in the past four games.
Less than three hours before the game, the Orioles learned that Sam Hulett, the 6-year-old son of infielder Tim Hulett, had died from injuries sustained when he was struck by a car the day before. The news left a pall over an already silent clubhouse and had an obviously chilling effect on everybody.
"It's been an emotional two days for us," said McDonald. "It was tough to go out there. It was tough to get motivated -- real tough. Our prayers are with the Huletts."
Trying to put aside the emotional distraction, McDonald managed better than his final line would indicate. But the major leagues' leading distributor of home runs (25) made some familiar mistakes.
"I felt good and made some good pitches," said McDonald, who allowed seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. "I made a mistake to Huson and it went for a home run, and I made a real bad pitch to Downing and he hit that for a home run.
"Overall though, I thought I threw good and kept us in the game -- it just didn't work out for us."
The Orioles had plenty of chances to beat Jose Guzman (8-8), but other than a first-inning flurry, they were unable to score against the right-hander. Guzman, who allowed eight hits in 5 1/3 innings, turned his final jam of the night over to right-handed reliever Edwin Nunez in the sixth inning. Jeff Russell pitched the ninth to earn his 24th save.
The Orioles jumped on Guzman for a quick pair of runs when the first two hitters combined for a total of five bases. Brady Anderson opened the inning by grounding a 3-and-2 pitch over first base for a double.
Mike Devereaux followed with a high drive that went over the outstretched glove of Ruben Sierra and off the right-field scoreboard. Anderson scored and Devereaux went to third with his American League-leading seventh triple. Cal Ripken's grounder to deep short drove in the second run.
The lead lasted only until the top of the second, when the long ball tormented McDonald for the first time. With two outs, Ivan Rodriguez dropped a single just beyond the diving reach of right fielder Joe Orsulak. Huson followed with his third home run of the year, a shot into the right-center field bleachers.
An inning later, McDonald was victimized again as Downing hammered a changeup into the left-field seats for his eighth homer of the year to make it 3-2.
The Orioles then proceeded to squander two more scoring opportunities. Jeff Tackett led off the third with a double into the right-field corner and moved up a base on Anderson's grounder to the right side.
After Devereaux walked to put runners on the corners, Ripken bounced to third baseman Al Newman, who threw Tackett out at the plate. Glenn Davis then grounded out to end the inning.
The misfire in the fourth inning was even more blatant. Randy Milligan, Orsulak and Leo Gomez hit successive singles to load the bases with nobody out. But Bill Ripken's high hopper to Newman resulted in a force at the plate and Tackett grounded into a routine double play to silence the threat.
The Rangers added another run in the sixth, when only an unusual double play enabled the Orioles to escape without further damage. With one out Juan Gonzalez singled, Kevin Reimer walked and Rodriguez doubled.
With the score 4-2 and runners on second and third, Huson was given an intentional walk to load the bases and set up a possible double play. The Orioles got what they wanted -- but hardly the way they had it planned.
The Rangers elected to attempt a squeeze play, and all three runners were moving on the pitch. Newman, however, failed to make contact, leaving Rangers between every base.
Tackett threw to Gomez, who tagged Reimer for the second out, then wheeled and threw to shortstop Ripken covering third base to get Rodriguez.
That escape proved to be only a temporary lift for the Orioles, who blew another bases-loaded opportunity in the sixth. Davis extended his hitting streak to seven games with a single and, after Milligan flied out, went to third on Orsulak's looper to right-center field.