TORONTO - The frustration that has been building inside the Orioles came spilling out of Josh Towers yesterday, taking a high bounce off SkyDome's artificial surface and almost landing in the first row of seats beside the visitors dugout.
Towers got mad. His team couldn't get even.
Accustomed to taking early leads on the road, only to lose them, the Orioles trailed from the beginning in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, who completed a three-game sweep before 27,724.
The Orioles are 5-20 since the All-Star break and have dropped 25 of their past 31 games after leaving the tying run on third base yesterday. They flew to Kansas City last night 7 1/2 games ahead of last-place Tampa Bay in the American League East. They also could learn today that they've lost rookie slugger Jay Gibbons for the season to a wrist injury that might require surgery. He will have an magnetic resonance imaging test today in Baltimore.
The Blue Jays hit three homers off Towers, the most he's given up in 13 major-league starts. They also got under his skin.
Jose Cruz homered twice to left field, reaching for pitches off the plate and going the opposite way. He did it in the third inning after a single by Homer Bush, leaving Towers (6-7) to watch in disbelief as the ball disappeared over the fence.
Still winless since June 29, Towers stood with his hands on his hips. He looked in the Orioles' dugout, then returned his gaze to the outfield. Nothing had changed. He was behind 4-0, and headed toward his fifth consecutive loss.
Towers retired the next three batters, stepping on first for the last out after taking an underhand toss from David Segui. He slammed the ball to the ground as he crossed the bag, then made another slow walk to the bench while Segui retrieved it.
"It's been frustrating for six straight starts," Towers said. "Part of the thing is, it got better as the game went on, but before you know it we're down 4-0. I don't know why."
Cruz led off the fifth with another homer, this time offering at a pitch up and away.
"I came back and watched the first one, and he got it pretty good," Towers said. "I don't know how he hit the second one. It didn't even look like he got barrel."
Cruz opened the first by doubling to right-center field. Towers threw him a changeup before trying to get fastballs past him later in the game.
"After that first changeup, for whatever reason, we didn't throw anything else off-speed to him," said Towers, whose past five starts have produced a 7.52 ERA.
Raul Mondesi already had connected off Towers in the second inning, the ball landing halfway up the seats in the second deck. The Orioles scored twice off Esteban Loaiza in the fourth and pulled within 5-3 in the sixth. They scored a run off Blue Jays closer Billy Koch in the ninth, catching up to his 99-mph fastball, but couldn't spare their rookie pitcher from another defeat.
B.J. Ryan replaced him with one out in the eighth, completing Towers' third-longest outing this season. Towers allowed nine hits, but didn't walk a batter.
"When he missed his spots or hung a pitch, they hit it hard, especially early," manager Mike Hargrove said.
The Orioles came within 90 feet of leaving Towers without the decision. Leading off the ninth, pinch hitter Jeff Conine worked Koch for a walk. Jerry Hairston reached on an infield hit, and Brady Anderson laid down a sacrifice bunt. Brian Roberts fell behind 0-2 before lifting a sacrifice fly on the ninth pitch thrown to him, reducing Toronto's lead to 5-4. Showing similar patience, Chris Richard extended the inning with a walk, but David Segui jumped on the first pitch and grounded into a force.
"At times, it felt like they had 15 guys on the field this weekend," Roberts said. "Everything we hit went to somebody."
Named the league's Rookie of the Month in June, Towers is getting some harsh lessons as hitters become more acquainted with him. In typical fashion, he has walked only one in his past four starts, and word has quickly spread that he's always around the plate.
"Consequently, guys are more aggressive with him early in the count. If something happens with Josh, it seems to be in the first three pitches of an at-bat. That's usually what happens with strike-throwers," Hargrove said. "Josh really depends on location to be effective. An 87-mph fastball that misses its location by six inches will get hit a lot harder than a 96-mph fastball that misses its location by six inches.
"But Josh has always done that. It's nothing new. He's still a very good pitcher, but he's still learning."
Said Towers, whose ERA is 6.41 since receiving the award: "I don't think it has anything to do with the hitters. I think it has everything to do with me. It's all about location. Anybody can hit a ball up. They're trained to hit mistakes, and I've been making a lot of them."