Craig Lefferts got a rude reception in his debut last night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Before the customary sellout crowd (45,800) had settled in, the left-hander was behind by four runs.
And it didn't get any better than that for the Orioles as Jaime Navarro and the Milwaukee Brewers cruised to a 5-0 victory. The loss dropped the Orioles to four games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays, who defeated the Texas Rangers, 4-2, last night. Third-place Milwaukee is two games behind the Orioles.
Except for his rocky start, Lefferts, who was obtained from the San Diego Padres on Aug. 31, turned in a credible performance. He scattered seven hits, struck out eight and walked two before leaving after six innings.
But neither Lefferts nor the Orioles' hitters was any match for Navarro (16-11), who broke a season-high three-game losing streak. The right-hander gave up five hits, no more than one in any inning, en route to his third shutout -- and the sixth pitched against the Orioles this year.
"He just threw strikes," said Orioles first baseman Randy Milligan, who drew the only walk issued by Navarro. "Usually he'll get behind to some guys and have to lay one in there. But this time he just got ahead of everybody."
"I didn't want to waste any pitches [he threw 103] and walk anyone," he said. "I just threw inside and outside, and hard. My last two games [against Detroit and New York] I had a problem with my control. Tonight, the guys gave me four runs, and so I just went after them."
Even before he knew just how tough his assignment would be, Lefferts was behind. It wasn't until later that he found out his margin for error evaporated in one inning.
"Some nights you just have to go out and throw zeros because you know the other guy is tough to hit," Lefferts said. "I didn't do that. If I can keep it 2-0, we're all right, but 4-0 made it difficult. I let things get out of hand early."
In a game that featured a club-record four stolen bases by Milwaukee first baseman John Jaha, the Brewers met little resistance as the Orioles were unable to get a runner beyond second base.
The Brewers unleashed their vaunted running game early, but hits, rather than stolen bases, provided them with their comfortable lead. The first two pitches by Lefferts were hit for doubles, the first to left field by Pat Listach, the second to right field by Kevin Seitzer.
Having given up a run before breaking a sweat, Lefferts then surrendered a single to Paul Molitor. "They hit doubles down each line on the first two pitches -- there's not much you can do about that," Lefferts said. "After that I got myself in a little bit of trouble."
After striking out Robin Yount, Lefferts got Dante Bichette on a ground out, which scored the second run, but then he walked Jaha. The Brewers executed a double steal -- and both runners scored on Greg Vaughn's single to left before B. J. Surhoff bounced out to end the inning.
"I hung a pitch to Vaughn, and that's the one that really hurt me," Lefferts said. "I let them get a couple of runs they shouldn't have had."
The Brewers couldn't capitalize on a two-out threat in the second inning, and two stolen bases after Jaha's second walk went for naught in the third. Lefferts was confronted with runners in each of the first five innings, but managed to escape all but the first.
Meanwhile, Navarro was pitching like he normally does against the Orioles, rather than the way he had in his previous three outings. The right-hander came into the game with a 6-1 lifetime record against the Orioles, but he had been rocked in his past three starts to the tune of a 10.38 ERA.
But last night, Navarro was in command as soon as his teammates provided him with the four-run pillow. Through six innings the Orioles had only four runners. All came on two-out singles -- by Bill Ripken in the third, Glenn Davis in the fourth, Leo Gomez in the fifth and Devereaux in the sixth.
Storm Davis replaced Lefferts at the start of the seventh inning but faced only three hitters before leaving with a cramp in his right side. Davis retired the first two hitters he faced, making an off-balance throw on Molitor's tapper to left side for the second out.
But when Yount followed with a single, Davis was removed and replaced by Mark Williamson, who didn't retire any of the three batters he faced. Singles by Bichette and Jaha increased Milwaukee's lead to 5-0 and a walk to Vaughn loaded the bases before Pat Clements got Surhoff to fly out to end the inning.
The Orioles finally got a runner beyond first base in the seventh inning. But Chris Hoiles' double also came with two outs and, he, too, was unable to advance.
The Orioles continue to struggle in their effort to gain ground on the Blue Jays. They have lost four of five on this homestand and five of six winning seven straight on the West Coast.