It certainly was not the spot Sam Perlozzo wanted for Kurt Birkins, but with all his other options in the bullpen exhausted, the Orioles manager had no choice.
So, in a scoreless game in the 12th inning, Perlozzo summoned Birkins, who had not pitched in a game since extended spring training on March 30. The Orioles lefthander was one out from getting out of the inning unscathed before surrendering a grand slam to the Detroit Tigers' Craig Monroe.
Monroe ripped a 1-1 pitch that sailed through the cold air and steady rain and disappeared over the center-field wall, helping the Tigers to a 4-1 victory over the Orioles before 13,288, the second smallest crowd in Camden Yards history.
The Orioles, who fell to 3-6, scored just two runs in the last 24 innings of the series. Their only run yesterday came in the 12th when Tigers reliever Bobby Seay was called for a balk with Corey Patterson on third. The Orioles managed only six hits (two in the 12th inning) and left 11 runners on.
The frustration is certainly mounting. Brian Roberts tossed aside his bat in disgust after one at-bat. Aubrey Huff slammed his into the ground, breaking it into two.
Scott Williamson pitched out of a jam in the top of the 11th, stranding Monroe at third with one out thanks to a strikeout of Brandon Inge and a flyout by Curtis Granderson. But Birkins, who was recalled last weekend when catcher Ramon Hernandez went on the disabled list and was the seventh reliever Perlozzo used last night, was unable to do the same.
Ivan Rodriguez led off the 12th with a single and moved to second on Magglio Ordonez's infield single. Birkins then walked Carlos Guillen, bringing up Monroe with the bases loaded.
Adam Loewen pitched five scoreless innings, exiting the game after getting out of a basesloaded jamin the fifth. On a night when he repeatedly got out of jams to keep the game scoreless, Loewen perhaps showed the most guts in hitting Gary Sheffield with two outs in the fifth.
Two innings earlier, Detroit starter Justin Verlander had hit Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada in the lower back with a pitch. Loewen?s pitch, the first of the atbat with Sheffield, hit the Tigers designated hitter in the upper back. Sheffield took his base without even looking at Loewen, but both benches were issued a warning by home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman.
If the Orioles 23-year-old pitcher was intentionally hitting Sheffield to return the favor for Tejada, he almost paid for it. The next batter, Ordonez, hit a single and then Guillen walked, loading the bases. Loewen struck out Monroe to keep the game scoreless. With his pitch count at 95, Perlozzo didn't send him out for the sixth inning. He allowed four hits and fourwalks, striking out four.
Verlander, meanwhile, was even better, holding the Orioles to three hits and three walks through seven innings. He struck out five and now hasn?t given up an earned run in 13 innings this season.
The Orioles did have some chances. Roberts, who continues to slump, flied to center field in the second, leaving the bases loaded. Kevin Millar was stranded at second base with one out in the seventh when Paul Bako struck out and Roberts grounded out.
In the eighth, a throwing error by Inge put runners on first and second with one out. But Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney got Huff to foul out and then struck out Jay Gibbons on three pitches.
The Orioles entered the game with a .224 team average, the third worst in the American League. Among the starters yesterday, right fielder Nick Markakis had the highest batting average entering last night at .273.
Roberts was hitting .167, cleanup hitter Tejada was at .250, No. 5 hitter Huff had fallen to .258 after a fast start, while the last three guys in the lineup ?Millar, Corey Patterson and Bako ? entered last night hitting .217, .208 and .133, respectively.
"We need to get some guys going,? Perlozzo said before the game. 'But we have confidence that our guys are going to start swinging the bat. It?s just a matter of time."
Asked before the game what he knew about Verlander, Perlozzo smiled and said, "Toomuch."
Verlander, the second overall selection in the 2004 draft, went 17-9 last season with a 3.63 ERA, earning the American League Rookie of the Year award. The Orioles faced him once last season and were beaten, 6-3, at Camden Yards. Verlander went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out four.
The 24-year-old right-hander was sharp in his first start, which was a no-decision. He gave up no earned runs in six innings against the Kansas City Royals, allowing just two hits butwalking five.
"He's a pretty good pitcher, but we feel like we have a pretty good one going, too," said Perlozzo.