DETROIT - - Officially, the Orioles lost their fourth straight Monday night, when Clete Thomas' 426-foot missile landed over the center field wall for a 6-5 Detroit Tigers victory in the bottom of the ninth.
In reality, the Orioles handed the game over in the first, when their right-handed phenom struggled to preserve a five-run lead and their offense couldn't keep piling on after initially bashing one of baseball's best pitchers.
The Orioles (44-61) have lost 13 of their 17 games since the All-Star break, and nine have come by two runs or fewer.
"The rest of the year, we are going to be learning on the job with a lot of young guys," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "I've been through this before where you are going to have to take your lumps and we're going to have some young guys who are going to go out there and struggle. And do well, too."
For one glorious half-inning, however, the Orioles showed glimpses, stunning Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who had a 1.15 ERA at home this season and had allowed just seven total runs in 34 career innings against the Orioles.
Brian Roberts, who had one hit in 12 previous at-bats against Verlander, homered on the game's second pitch - the 12th leadoff homer of Roberts' career and second of the season. The first came July 5, which also was the last time Roberts had homered.
It looked like a sign this would be the Orioles' night. They strung together three straight singles and picked up their second run on Huff's broken-bat groundout. Ty Wigginton followed with an RBI double, and Luke Scott continued his Tiger-pummeling with a two-run double, pushing his RBI total against Detroit to 23 in 12 career games.
The Orioles scored five runs on five hits before the Tigers came to the plate, all against Verlander, who had allowed five runs or more only twice in his past 18 starts. He threw 25 pitches in the first and had 43 through the first two innings.
"Scoring five in the first off a guy whose ERA is 1.15 or something here at home, it's unheard of," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Had him on the ropes? We almost knocked him out. He came back."
But first, the Tigers came back against 21-year-old Chris Tillman, who was making his second big league start after lasting 4 2/3 innings Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals.
"I think I was a little better tonight. I used all my pitches," said Tillman, whose ERA is 6.75 in two no-decisions. "They did a good job getting the bat on the ball when they had to."
He was better, calmer and more effective, but not until allowing a leadoff triple, two doubles and a walk to the first four Tigers. After Miguel Cabrera's two-run double, the Tigers had climbed back to 5-3 before Tillman recorded an out.
"It would have been to all of our benefits to put a zero up after we scored five in the top of the first," Trembley said. "But if you look at the whole picture, he was improved."
Tillman lasted six innings, yielding seven hits, three walks and five runs. He threw three wild pitches, including two that set up a run in the fourth. He then surrendered Cabrera's 21st homer of the season to tie the score at 5 in the fifth.
All the while, Verlander was morphing into his unhittable self. His fastball velocity ratcheted up from the mid-90s to 98 mph. And the Orioles couldn't touch him, getting just three hits in his final seven innings after having five in the first. Verlander and reliever Fernando Rodney (2-2) combined to retire 23 of the final 26 Orioles.
"I think we [ticked] him off after the first inning," Huff said. "Certainly, you get five in the first against Verlander, you hope to win the game, but it didn't happen."
The score was tied until Danys Baez (4-5), in his second inning of work, served up Thomas' homer. Baez had struck out four of the first six batters he faced.
"He made a split with two strikes that got in the middle of the plate. One bad pitch," Trembley said. "That's probably the best he has thrown in a while."
It was no consolation to the Orioles, losers of their past four and a season-worst 17 games under .500.
What buoys the club is knowing that players like Tillman and today's starter, Brian Matusz, who will be making his big league debut, are only going to get better with experience.
"You are just going to have to be patient with them," Huff said. "This team is getting younger every day."
Trembley, Mora talk PG 3
Box scorefor Monday's game PG 4
Tonight, 7:05 TV: MASN HD Radio: 105.7 FM