CHICAGO - Unable to travel for health reasons, Sammy Sosa never made it to the Windy City last night. The hype was blown away, swirling over the stands like hot dog wrappers, useless as trash.
Needing a place to land, the attention fell upon a pitcher who refuses to lose and a 22-year-old outfielder who never expected to face him.
Jon Garland went eight innings to stay unbeaten, surviving a late rally and leading the Chicago White Sox to a 3-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field that included a rousing major league debut by Orioles prospect Jeff Fiorentino.
Garland became the first White Sox pitcher to start a season 7-0 since James Baldwin, now part of Triple-A Ottawa's rotation, in 2000. Baldwin won his first eight decisions.
Rafael Palmeiro interrupted Garland's shutout bid in the fifth inning with his third home run of the season, the 554th of his career. The Orioles tightened the game in the eighth on a two-out single by Melvin Mora, but Garland struck out Miguel Tejada with the tying run on third base.
Said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli: "Garland's ball seemed like it was moving all over the place."
So was the story line for a series that had been anticipated for months, and not because the Orioles (22-12) and White Sox (26-9) possess the best records in the majors.
Sosa's return to Chicago was supposed to be an event that would feed the appetites of a ravenous media. But the circus never came to town.
He remains in Baltimore for treatment of a staph infection on the bottom of his left foot and could be out for a month. Though Sosa hasn't been hospitalized, he's in the care of Johns Hopkins physicians, far removed from the cameras and microphones that awaited him in Chicago.
"He's disappointed that he's not with the team," Mazzilli said. "Sammy's a big part of the formula of this team and how it's playing, and he wants to be very much a part of this right now. Absolutely he's disappointed."
Larry Bigbie came out of the game in the fourth inning with tightness in his left hamstring, leaving the Orioles with none of their outfielders from Opening Day. Mazzilli replaced him with Fiorentino, last year's third-round draft pick whose contract was purchased from Single-A Frederick on Wednesday.
With his body numbed from the cold, Fiorentino singled twice in his first major league at-bats.
"It's the same stuff I've been doing," he said. "The guys are just a little better."
Brian Roberts (3-for-4) singled after both of Fiorentino's hits, putting runners on the corners with one out in the eighth and the White Sox leading 3-1. David Newhan sent a high chopper to the mound, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski applied a hard tag on Fiorentino, who retreated toward third base.
"It's a tough read right there for a kid like that," Mazzilli said.
Chicago's Dustin Hermanson, who hasn't allowed a run in 15 relief appearances this season, recorded his seventh save.
Bigbie isn't expected to start tonight against White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, and he could use the extra rest. He felt a twinge while leaving the batter's box in the third inning, and the leg stiffened after he returned to the field.
"I didn't want to do something that would keep me out longer. It was just a precautionary thing," he said. "I've had hamstring problems before and this was nothing."
It seemed like plenty for a team that already has lost Sosa and Luis Matos to the disabled list.
"You're concerned. There's no question," Mazzilli said. "It's not good timing if it's serious."
He could get an argument from Fiorentino, who figured to spend most of his time on the bench except for late-inning defensive assignments. The first position player to reach the majors from last year's draft, Fiorentino brought back vivid memories for Bigbie, who also was pressed into duty as a rookie in 2001 after Chris Richard went down with an injury against the White Sox.
"I hate to do that, spring it on him, but it happened to me, too," he said. "He seemed to be all right."
Said Fiorentino: "I didn't try to do too much. They told me everything I do at the plate is a bonus."
Left-hander Bruce Chen (4-2) turned in his shortest outing of the season, leaving after five innings with his pitch count at 85.
Pierzynski drilled a changeup into the right-field seats in the second inning, Juan Uribe led off the third with a home run, and Aaron Rowand had an RBI double with one out to give Chicago a 3-0 lead.
"I felt like I made two bad pitches," Chen said, "and they ended up costing me the game."