Chen sparkles, but O's drop 9th in a row, 3-0

In first O's start, he holds A's hitless for 5 2/3

HR in 9th wins it

August 26, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - It's hard to say which was a more unlikely sight for the Orioles last night: journeyman starter Bruce Chen tossing seven shutout innings, or ace reliever B.J. Ryan giving up a walk-off home run.

Either way, they couldn't stop their season-worst losing streak from reaching nine games, as the Oakland Athletics pulled out a 3-0 victory before 35,260 at Network Associates Coliseum.

With two outs in the ninth inning, Marco Scutaro, the No. 9 hitter in Oakland's lineup, drilled a fastball from Ryan into the left-field seats, and the A's jumped around at home plate, celebrating their sixth straight victory over the Orioles this season.

Ryan walked off, despondently. It was just the fourth home run he has allowed in 69 1/3 innings this season.

"I didn't make an adjustment," Ryan said. "He got ahead in the count [2-1], and I tried to make a pitch but left it up."

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise positive night for the Orioles, who watched Chen solidify his new place in their starting rotation.

At age 27, Chen is already with his ninth professional organization but he pitched as if he'd been mastering big league hitters for years. Using a fastball that ranged from 87 to 90 mph, along with a sweeping overhand curve, he didn't allow a hit until Eric Chavez dropped a bloop single into center field with two outs in the sixth inning.

Chen escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, when right fielder Jay Gibbons made a running catch on a drive by Mark Kotsay.

"He did a tremendous job. Tremendous," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said of Chen, who allowed three hits and four walks. "I was real proud of him."

Trouble was, the Orioles could barely muster anything against A's starter Rich Harden. With a blazing fastball that ranged from 94 to 98 mph, and an equally devastating split-fingered pitch, he allowed four hits and one walk over eight innings.

Oakland manager Ken Macha turned to closer Octavio Dotel with the score still tied in the ninth, and Dotel (3-1) wound up getting the win.

Ryan entered in the eighth inning and retired the side, so Mazzilli sent him back out for the ninth.

After striking out Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo, Ryan sputtered. Damian Miller singled and Bobby Crosby walked, but the Orioles had no one else warming up in the bullpen.

"B.J.'s the best," Mazzilli said. "I wouldn't think twice about using him in any situation like that again."

Ryan said he wasn't tired, but on his 35th pitch, Scutaro launched his fifth homer.

"A home run is a good feeling, but a walk-off home run is the best feeling," Scutaro said, after the A's won their 20th game decided in their final at-bat.

For the Orioles, this marks the seventh consecutive season they have had a losing streak of nine games or more. But they still came away from this one encouraged with Chen's performance.

The Orioles acquired him from Toronto for future considerations - which is to say, not much - on May 2. They shipped him to Triple-A Ottawa and stuck him in the bullpen for a while before moving him into the starting rotation.

In his final 19 games at Ottawa, he went 4-2 with a 2.62 ERA. When Dave Borkowski began struggling, the Orioles promoted Chen, hoping this time could be the charm.

Chen hadn't appeared in a big league game since May 27, 2003, when he started for Boston against the New York Yankees.

"I do feel good about my performance," Chen said. "But it's just one day, and we lost."

The Orioles haven't had a complete-game no-hitter since Jim Palmer did it against Oakland at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 13, 1969.

The Coliseum had already been the sight of one unlikely Orioles' no-hitter, as four pitchers - Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson - combined against the A's on July 13, 1991.

Chen came close, and made an impression.

"I have no idea who he was, and I still don't," Harden said, after watching from the other dugout. "I just know he can pitch."

Orioles today

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time: 3:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (9-6, 4.67) vs. A's Barry Zito (9-9, 4.47)

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