TORONTO - Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie's final outing of the first half mirrored much of his season.
He pitched well, barely yielded any runs and still came up empty when the Toronto Blue Jays surged back against the Orioles' bullpen to win, 6-5, and complete a three-game sweep at Rogers Centre.
Guthrie, who is tied for first in the American League in quality starts, left after seven innings with a 3-2 lead. The Orioles added two runs in the top of the eighth to go ahead 5-2, but Jim Johnson allowed two runs in the bottom of the inning. In the ninth, closer George Sherrill coughed up the lead and then lost the game on Adam Lind's RBI single.
"Give them credit. They found a way to get it done," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "We had it set up with the right guys in at the right spots, and it didn't happen for us."
After seven superb innings in which he threw 101 pitches and allowed four hits and one earned run, Guthrie was removed for Johnson, who perhaps has been the club's best pitcher. But the rookie allowed a single and double to start the eighth, and both runners scored on RBI groundouts, cutting the Orioles' lead to 5-4.
"I gave them back the momentum, which you can't do that late in the game," said Johnson, who has allowed six earned runs in his past three outings, increasing his ERA from 1.14 to 2.13. "And we wasted a good outing by Jeremy. That kind of stinks, but you have to forget about it and start playing a little bit better."
Sherrill, the club's only All-Star, recorded the first out before surrendering a single, a double, a tying sacrifice fly and Lind's game-winner to right field.
"Location," said Sherrill (2-4), who had pitched once since July 1. "They jumped on the first pitch a lot. I was trying to get ahead, and they had pretty good pitches to hit."
It was Sherrill's sixth blown save of the season but his fourth in his past 11 appearances. Despite their recent struggles, Trembley said he didn't hesitate in summoning his two most reliable relievers.
"I don't think there is any room for discussion, none whatsoever," Trembley said. "I think it is set up pretty easy right there. I think it is pretty clear-cut right there."
The Orioles (44-46) tied a season high with their fifth straight loss, including four consecutive by one run. They dropped two games under .500 for the first time since June 2 and fell into a last-place tie with the Blue Jays (45-47).
"It's a very tough stretch," Guthrie said. "Our goal was to really finish strong into the All-Star break, and I think we are playing well. We just don't have the wins the past three games to show for that."
Guthrie did his part, producing his 14th quality start in 20 games, tying the Kansas City Royals' Zack Greinke for the league lead. In starts in which Guthrie has pitched at least six innings and given up three earned runs or fewer, the Orioles are 7-7. They are 9-11 in their ace's 20 starts and have scored three or fewer runs for him nine times.
Last night, they staked him to a 3-0 lead by the second inning and went up 5-2 in the eighth courtesy of Melvin Mora's two-run single.
Yet, in a late-inning blur, the lead, Guthrie's sixth victory and the Orioles' attempt to shake their losing streak vanished.
"We are just snakebitten right now," Kevin Millar said. "The last few losses have been tough. We had this game in the bag, and we just couldn't do it."