O's Maine all wet in debut, 7-3

In rainy weather conditions, Twins take down Orioles as young pitcher fails to make it out of fourth inning

'I'm sure he was a little nervous out there'

July 24, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As John Maine stood on the mound last night at Camden Yards, the rain pelting him almost as hard as the Minnesota Twins, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro draped an arm around his shoulder. He must have sensed that the rookie needed a little comfort. Or at least some shelter.

Maine didn't want his major league debut to end like this, with two outs in the fourth inning and his team behind by three runs, but he couldn't do anything about the weather or the Twins.

One of them dampened his uniform, the other his enthusiasm.

Needed to make one start after the previous day's doubleheader, Maine gave up a home run to Jacque Jones among seven hits in the Twins' 7-3 victory over the Orioles before 34,874.

Jones drove a fastball into the left-field seats to begin the inning, and three straight singles led to Maine's removal with two outs. Manager Lee Mazzilli chatted with him briefly, tapped him on the chest and waited for reliever John Parrish.

"I told him to take a look around and see what it's like," Mazzilli said. "I just wanted to give him a little encouragement. I wanted to see him smile a little bit."

The view will change for Maine, who was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa after the game. Outfielder Darnell McDonald will join the Orioles today.

"It was awesome. I'm glad I got the opportunity," said Maine, who was charged with four runs. "I'll try to put a few more good starts together and try to improve."

The Orioles (43-52) purchased Maine's contract yesterday after he went 4-5 with a 4.26 ERA at Triple-A Ottawa. He won all four decisions at Double-A Bowie before joining the Lynx on May 3.

Hesitant to rush him another level, the Orioles decided to give Maine, 23, the start rather than call up veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, another nonroster pitcher at Ottawa.

The Orioles tried to take the decision from him in the seventh, scoring twice to reduce the Twins' lead to 5-3. But Grant Balfour struck out Melvin Mora to strand two runners, and Corey Koskie hit a two-run homer off Buddy Groom in the ninth, as Minnesota won for the fifth time in six games to remain in first place in the American League Central.

Mazzilli became familiar with Maine in spring training after the Orioles invited him to camp as a reward for being selected as the organization's minor league Pitcher of the Year. He relies mostly on a fastball that sits between 90-92 mph, though it stayed in the high 80s last night.

Pitching coach Ray Miller visited Maine after a walk loaded the bases with none out in the second, and again after a double-play ball in the third.

A strike-thrower in the minors, Maine needed 67 pitches to get through his outing. Ten came in the first inning, when he retired the side.

"I'm sure he was a little nervous out there," Mazzilli said. "I don't know how much the conditions played into it, but he couldn't find the zone at all. He's not used to coming up here and getting behind hitters."

Said Maine: "The biggest thing is I changed a little bit what got me here. You're not supposed to do that. I learned. I'll get over it."

The Twins went ahead 3-1 in the second on a two-run single by Koskie and a wild pitch.

In the fourth, after Jones' homer, singles by Henry Blanco, Luis Rivas and Nick Punto extinguished Maine's debut.

"He's a young kid," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You could tell he was a little excited."

Two walks, two errors and a single by Punto in the sixth increased the Twins' lead to 5-1.

The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first against Twins starter Carlos Silva on singles by Brian Roberts and David Newhan and a one-out hit by Miguel Tejada, who has 13 RBIs since the All-Star break. But Palmeiro grounded into a double play to end the inning, and Silva toughened until the seventh.

Lopez and Karim Garcia singled, and Silva hit Jerry Hairston on the left forearm to load the bases with none out. Larry Bigbie singled to score Lopez, but J.C. Romero struck out Roberts on three pitches.

David Newhan sent a slow roller to the right side, scoring Garcia but producing the second out. Given a chance to tie the game, Mora struck out.

By the time closer Joe Nathan got the final out for the Twins, Maine was thinking ahead to his next opportunity, whenever it might come. Baseball America ranks him as the Orioles' No. 2 prospect behind Adam Loewen, and last night's effort didn't sour anyone's opinion of him.

"I think he had a good taste of what it's like," Mazzilli said. "It was a good learning process for him. We saw some good things."

Maine scored points with the front office two years ago when he suggested that his modest salary be withheld after a poor outing in his debut at Single-A Frederick - an offer the Orioles refused. In his next start, he tossed a seven-inning no-hitter against Winston Salem.

A legend wasn't born, but the story certainly made the rounds in the B&O warehouse.

Maine would like to write another chapter. In weather better suited for baseball.

"Everyone else pitched in it, too," he said. "It was just me not pitching up to my capabilities."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

TIme: 6:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Terry Mulholland (2-3, 4.56) vs. Orioles' Sindey Ponson (4-12, 6.13)

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