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. - For all their flaws, the Orioles have shown a magic touch this season when it comes to picking starting pitchers from Triple-A Ottawa.

First it was Daniel Cabrera, then it was Dave Borkowski, and last night it was Bruce Chen, pitching as if he'd been mastering big league hitters for years.

The story with Chen is much more complicated, of course. The Orioles are his ninth organization, but he carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics, and left with the game still scoreless after the seventh.

Trouble was, the Orioles couldn't solve A's starter Rich Harden, either.

Marco Scutaro hit a three-run, walk-off homer against Orioles reliever B.J. Ryan with two outs in the ninth inning, giving Oakland a 3-0 victory before 35,260 at Network Associates Coliseum.

The Orioles have now dropped a season-worst nine straight games, and this marks the seventh consecutive season they have had a losing streak of nine games or more.

Chen didn't give up his first hit until Eric Chavez dropped a bloop single into center field with two outs in the sixth inning.

And Chen didn't even let hit that spoil his night.

After getting through the sixth, he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, when right fielder Jay Gibbons made a running catch to rob Mark Kotsay of extra bases.

The Orioles acquired Chen from the Toronto Blue Jays 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 Borkowski began struggling, the Orioles promoted Chen, hoping this time could be the charm.

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

But you would have never guessed that last night.

Chen retired the first six batters he faced, and came out showing a fastball that ranged from 87 to 90 mph, with a sweeping overhand curve. Home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora had a generous strike zone, calling numerous strikes that the A's hitters didn't like.

The A's didn't have a baserunner until Chen walked Damian Miller to start the third inning. Miller advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and with two outs, Chen walked leadoff man Kotsay.

At that point, it looked like's Chen's career-long control problems would catch up to him. In 155 career major league games, Chen had allowed an average of 3.9 walks per nine innings.

But Chen escaped the third inning when Eric Byrnes took a called third strike, on a sweeping, 76-mph curveball. Scott Hatteberg watched the same pitch for strike three after Jermaine Dye walked with one out in the fourth inning.

Chen was in a groove, uncoiling his 6-foot-2 frame with an awkward throwing motion, but getting positive results.

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 was actually the sight of another unlikely Orioles no-hitter, as four pitchers - Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson - combined on a no-no against the A's on July 13, 1991.

This time, Chen continued his bid into the sixth inning. After getting two quick outs that inning on fly balls to center field, Chen got ahead of Chavez and threw another breaking pitch. Chavez looked fooled, but he lunged for the ball and got just enough of it to lift it into center field.

Rookie center fielder Val Majewski hustled in on the ball, and second baseman Brian Roberts hustled back, but the ball fell in for a single. Shortstop Miguel Tejada took the throw from the outfield and pointed to Chen, reminding him to keep his chin up, and Chen got out of the inning when Dye grounded out to third.

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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