The boos from another sparse Camden Yards crowd cascaded down on the Orioles early last night, first for a poor pitching performance by Bruce Chen, then for a series of defensive lapses that turned an already lopsided game into a comedy of er rors from the home team.
Already short-handed because of a beat-up bullpen, the Orioles could ill afford a short outing by Chen, an anemic offensive effort and a porous defensive one, but they got all three in a 15-1 drub bing by the Cleveland Indians that was easily the club's most troubling showing of the season.
Manager Sam Perlozzo refused to let the rout linger. "It's a loss." he said. "You've got to forget about it and look forward to tomorrow. We have been playing pretty good baseball. Everything just kind of fell apart tonight."
Unable again to mount any offense on former teammate Jason Johnson, the Orioles (8-7) were reeling when Chen left with no outs in the fifth inning, his team already down 7-0 after two long Indians' home runs, a two-run shot by Victor Martinez and a three-run homer by Grady Sizemore.
But last night's effort was crystallized by three straight plays in Cleveland's five-run sixth on Orioles rookie reliever Chris Britton. The first Orioles' miscue came on Jhonny Peralta's RBI single to center, which Nick Markakis fielded and fired into cutoff man Miguel Tejada. The ball skipped off Tejada's glove and bounded toward the Indians" dugout, allowing another runner to score.
After a single, Martinez hit a grounder to Brian Roberts that went through the second baseman's legs, bringing home another runner. The carnage was complete after Markakis and Jay Gibbons appeared confused as to who was going to catch Ben Broussard's fly ball to right-center, which dropped in the out field as the Indians tacked on another run.
Of the errors, Perlozzo said, 'It's not a good thing. I am not going to say it's understandable, but those kind of things happen when you are getting beaten up a little bit."
Last night's game continued a tough stretch for the Orioles, who took three of four from the Los Angeles Angels, but will play their next nine against the Indians, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.
Injuries in the bullpen put pressure on Chen to log some innings against one of the best offensive teams in the league, but the left-hander, who was arguably the club's most reliable pitcher last year, was unable to deliver. He allowed a two-run single to Indians left fielder Jason Michaels in the third, and his struggles continued into the fourth, after issuing a leadoff walk to Travis Hafner.
Clearly off with his command, a necessity for the Orioles' soft tosser, Chen (0-2) watched Martinez turn around his 86-mph pitch for a two-run homer that traveled 378 feet and landed about 15 rows up in the left-field bleachers.
Chen then allowed a single to Ronnie Belliard, who requested a timeout but wasn't granted one and stepped back in and drove the ball to right field, and a walk to Aaron Boone. Sizemore stepped up and hit a three-run homer to left field, giving the Indians a 7-0 lead, and sending many of the 17,354 fans to the exits.
Chen surrendered eight hits, three walks and eight earned runs, including two home runs. Chen, who gave up the second most home runs in the American League last season, has now given up six homers in his past two outings and his ERA stands at 8.10.
"He has given up some home runs, a little more than we expected him to. I don't know what the reason is." Perlozzo said. "We certainly don't want it to continue. I don't think he's been as crisp as he was this spring. When you are that type of pitcher, if you are not getting the pitch where you want to get it, you're susceptible to home runs."
Meanwhile, the Orioles again were shut down by Johnson. The right-hander, who pitched for the Orioles from 1999 to 2003, was 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA in three starts versus his former team last season as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
Roberts, who tied a career high with four hits and two stolen bases, singled and reached third with one out in the first, but was thrown out at home, trying to score on Melvin Mora's grounder to Belliard.
Through six innings, Johnson (2-0) had allowed only four hits, three by Roberts and an infield single by Tejada. He was removed after Roberts' no-out double in the eighth scored Markakis and wrecked Johnson's shutout attempt.
Before Roberts' RBI, the Orioles were headed for their second worst shutout loss in franchise history. On this night, avoiding that distinction stood out as one of the only positives.