The losing streak that is threatening to diminish all that is good about this Orioles season took a turn for the weird last night, when the Texas Rangers lost their starting pitcher in the first inning and still didn't yield a hit until the ninth.
The free-falling Orioles not only saw their losing streak reach 10 games, but also didn't have a hit until Jerry Hairston led off the ninth with a triple against Rangers reliever Joaquin Benoit.
On a night made for bizarre feats, Benoit went seven innings and finished with the longest save in major-league history, as the Texas Rangers cruised to a 7-1 victory before 29,248 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles matched their longest losing streak since they lost 21 games to start the 1988 season. This is the 10th time in franchise history the Orioles have had a double-digit losing streak. They had one in 1998, 1999 and September 2001, but those were different.
Those didn't follow five months of positive developments. This time, a team that looked as if it might blossom in September is wilting, and wilting fast.
"We've already had three meetings [during the streak]," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "I don't know that another one does much good. We might have one [today]. But I know if I was out there, I wouldn't want to sit through another one [last night]."
Last night marked the third time in four games that the Orioles recorded 16 outs before getting their first hit.
Angels pitchers Mickey Callaway and Ramon Ortiz held the Orioles without a hit for 5 1/3 innings on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. In both cases, Geronimo Gil got the Orioles' first base hit with one out in the sixth inning.
This time, Rangers starter Aaron Myette didn't even make it past one batter.
The commissioner's office had warned the umpiring crew to be on the lookout for trouble after reviewing the reports from last week, when the Rangers swept three games from the Orioles in Texas.
On Thursday, Orioles pitcher Travis Driskill hit Rafael Palmeiro with a pitch, and the next inning, Myette came back and threw behind Chris Richard. Nothing came of it that night, and Hargrove said the original umpires' warning "came as a complete surprise to me."
With two outs in the first inning, Orioles starter John Stephens hit Alex Rodriguez in the shoulder with an 84-mph fastball. That came with an 0-2 count, and Stevens said the pitch simply got away.
"I get real tired of people misunderstanding," Hargrove said. "We don't have any reason to hit anybody. I don't know where that comes from."
Myette threw his first two pitches behind Orioles leadoff hitter Melvin Mora, and home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck ejected Myette, without warning.
Rangers manager Jerry Narron argued the decision, to no avail.
"I don't know exactly what came from the league office, but there was supposedly some bad blood from our last series," Narron said. "It's [Hirschbeck's] discretion. He thought Myette did it intentionally."
Said Myette: "Not much to talk about. I pitch inside. Balls got away. I've never had perfect control."
Todd Van Poppel (3-1) relieved Myette and struck out five batters in two innings. Then the Rangers turned to Benoit, who was originally supposed to start tonight's game and wound up making history.
Major League Baseball first started counting saves in 1969, and the longest previous save on record was the six-inning effort by Rangers pitcher Horatio Pina on April 23, 1972.
Before Hairston hit his triple, the Orioles only had one play that was even close to being a hit. Mora led off the sixth inning with a hard grounder down the third base line, but Herbert Perry made a backhanded stop and fired across the diamond for the out.
"I was just trying to do my job and throw strikes and get people out," Benoit said. "I really didn't think about [the no-hitter]. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. If you get too excited, you might blow it."
Hairston scored the Orioles' lone run on a grounder to second base by Richard.
"[Benoit] had good stuff, and we'd been struggling a little bit as a team," Hairston said. "We've got to get going. Hitting is contagious and not hitting is contagious. Hopefully, we'll break out in a big way soon."
Narron said Myette will come back and start tonight's game.
The Rangers took a second-inning lead against Orioles starter John Stephens (1-4) on Mike Lamb's two-run double. Stephens went five innings, allowing four runs on six hits, and then Hargrove turned to Driskill, who made his first relief appearance since May 21.
Perry hit Driskill's first pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Rangers 21 consecutive games with a home run. The Orioles, for comparison, have hit a home run in just five of these past 10 games.
"You can't let nine losses derail you," Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift said before yesterday's game. "[Twelve] days ago, we were 63-63. That wasn't an accident. I would say the talent exceeds the record right now. Our foundation remains stronger than ever."
But at 63-73, the record is crumbling fast.
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Aaron Myette (2-4, 8.93) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (6-5, 4.16)
Orioles slow to get started
In three of their past four games, the Orioles have been no-hit through at least 5 1/3 innings:
Date ... First O's hit ........... Opposing pitcher ......... When ........... Score
8/30 .. Geronimo Gil ....... Angels' Mickey Callaway ... 6th, 1 out ... L, 6-2
8/31 .. Geronimo Gil ....... Angels' Ramon Ortiz ......... 6th, 1 out .. L, 9-0
9/3 .... Jerry Hairston ..... Rangers' Joaquin Benoit ... 9th, 0 out ... L, 7-1