The celebration was brief last night at Camden Yards, appreciative applause before the game for Cal Ripken, his 32nd birthday and, most significantly, the signing of his new contract.
Though the game took more than 3 1/2 hours to finish, it didn't take long for the cheers to turn into boos for Ripken and the Orioles during the course of an ugly, 5-2 loss to the California Angels.
The loss was the third straight and fifth in seven games on the current homestand for the Orioles (68-57), who managed to stay three games behind the equally fading Toronto Blue Jays and remained a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
In what is clearly not a division of power, the first-place Jays (71-54) lost to the White Sox, 8-4, in Chicago, and the Brewers (67-57) erased an early four-run deficit to take a three-run lead on the Yankees, only to lose, 9-8, in New York.
It was also the fourth straight defeat for rookie pitcher Arthur Rhodes (4-4), who continued to struggle after his impressive start. California knocked out Rhodes in the midst of a three-run fifth, which included a one-out error by Ripken.
Ripken's boot of an apparent inning-ending double-play ball didn't bring the boos from a crowd of 44,285 -- the 50th sellout of the season and the 42nd straight -- but his at-bat in the bottom of the fifth did.
When Ripken grounded to short to start a double play and end the inning, it marked the first time since the 1990 season that the Orioles longtime, home-grown shortstop had been booed loudly at home. Ripken heard a few more boos in his final at-bat, when he grounded out to finish the night 0-for-4.
The Angels, who started four rookies behind pitcher Jim Abbott, seemed content on ruining Ripken's signing/birthday party, as well as the Orioles' run in the American League East.
A weak defensive team, the Angels made several sparkling plays VTC to help Abbott (6-12), possibly baseball's best losing pitcher, win his second straight. Abbott tired in the ninth and was knocked out after the Orioles strung together three hits. With runners on first and second, reliever Joe Grahe came in to face Randy Milligan. After going 2-0 on Milligan, Grahe quickly evened the count. Grahe then got Milligan to fly deep to center and record his 17th save.
Both the Angels and Orioles threatened in the first inning, but couldn't follow through after getting runners in scoring position. Ripken played a prominent role in each team's threat being snuffed quietly.
Ripken started an inning-ending double play on Tim Salmon's sharply hit grounder. It came after California's first two batters, Luis Polonia and Luis Sojo, had started the game with back-to-back singles, and Rhodes had struck out Junior Felix.
Ripken then ended an opportunity for the Orioles. After Milligan and Mike Devereaux put together back-to-back singles with one out, and Glenn Davis foul-popped to first baseman Gary Gaetti, Ripken's first post-contract at-bat resulted in a fielder's choice on a weakly hit grounder to third.
The Orioles had another chance in the second, when Leo Gomez was plunked on the arm by Abbott leading off and Chris Hoiles singled to left. But after a sacrifice bunt by David Segui, Bill Ripken grounded to third and Brady Anderson struck out.
The Angels took advantage of their second scoring chance. It came in the third inning, after Rhodes walked Polonia with one out and then walked Felix with two. After nearly striking out Salmon -- a 1-2 fastball was called a bit low -- Rhodes gave up a single that went past Milligan into right.
The Orioles evened things in the fourth. After Gomez drew a leadoff walk, Hoiles lined a 2-0 pitch to left-center. Gomez rounded second and kept going; Chad Curtis' throw would have been close, but shortstop Gary DiSarcina cut it off and, with Hoiles hung up between first and second, threw to second. Hoiles scurried back to first.
Gomez scored when Segui hit a broken-bat grounder to short, then beat out another relay from second baseman Sojo. But a couple of strong defensive plays by the league's second-worst field team saved Abbott from further trouble. First, third baseman Damion Easley robbing Bill Ripken with a neat backhand stab on a scorching one-hopper. Then, after a walk to Anderson, DiSarcina dove behind second base and threw out Milligan.
The Angels jumped ahead 4-1 in their next turn at bat. Loading the bases with one out on a leadoff walk to Polonia, a double to left by Felix and an intentional walk to Salmon, Rhodes gave up a two-run single to Curtis after falling behind 3-1 in the count. Exit Rhodes, enter Alan Mills.
One of the team's most effective pitchers in a variety of roles this season, Mills seemingly had gotten the Orioles out of the inning when Gary Gaetti bounced to shortstop. But Ripken bobbled the ball, and Gaetti beat the throw. With the bases loaded, DiSarcina then hit a sacrifice fly. Mills struck out Ron Tingley to end the inning.