The Orioles' Brian Roberts reacts after striking out… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
The storyline is familiar: The Orioles' hitters struggle on a Sunday afternoon against a left-hander and waste a gutsy performance by their starting pitcher as they close a homestand with a loss and head for a tough road trip.
The difference this time is context. The Orioles' 3-0 loss to the Texas Rangers before an announced 21,452 on Sunday served as the team's first series loss in this young season.
As they head to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, the Orioles (6-3) at the very least will boast a share of first place in the American League East.
"I'd say it's good. We have a winning record, and we just played a really good ballclub," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "It's not like we got blown out. We played close games with the exception of one. But I think, overall, the first week we did pretty damn good."
On Sunday, the Orioles were attempting to win their first three series of the season after sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays and taking two of three from the Detroit Tigers; the Orioles didn't win three series last season until June 25-27.
Instead, the offense sputtered against a tough lefty, 24-year-old Derek Holland, who allowed five hits and two walks in six scoreless innings. The Orioles are 1-2 in games against left-handed starters this year after going 18-33 in 2010.
With several right-handed offensive additions this offseason, the Orioles are better equipped to face lefties. The offense, however, is in a mini slump, scoring just one run in its past 24 innings, dating to the fourth inning of the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.
"Considering the way we're swinging the bats, I think we're in a real good position," Markakis said. "It says a lot about our pitching, and that's what we need. We'll get the bats going and score some runs for them."
Holland (2-0) was locked into a pitching duel with Jeremy Guthrie, who wasn't even positive he would make the start until Saturday. Guthrie was hospitalized Monday through Wednesday afternoon with pneumonia and a fever that spiked as high as 103 degrees.
"He did a lot of work with the doctors and trainers to get to this point, and I thought he gave us everything he had," Showalter said of Guthrie. "He was running out of gas there at the end. I was watching him when he backed up third on a fly ball for the last out. Gutty effort. Gave us a chance to win, and you've got to have that with the pitching they run out there."
Guthrie lasted six innings, allowing four hits, one walk and one run, a solo homer by Adrian Beltre in the fourth inning. His fastball velocity was consistently in the low 90s but hit as high as 94 mph. The pitch to Beltre was a belt-high, 92 mph fastball.
"A couple of times I tried to reach back and I didn't have it," said Guthrie, who has allowed one run in his first 14 innings this season. "[The] Beltre pitch is one specifically that I tried to throw, tried to give a little bit more, and it didn't have much on it and it caught a ton of the plate. I didn't get away with that pitch."
The Rangers, who improved to a major league-best 8-1 record, added two insurance runs in the seventh on Ian Kinsler's homer against reliever Jim Johnson.
The Orioles' best opportunity against Holland came in the fifth with two outs, when Derrek Lee doubled to left. Markakis, who had singled, raced around third and dashed past third base coach John Russell's stop sign, which Markakis said he didn't see.
He then halted about halfway down the baseline, almost at the same time the relay throw skipped past catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Markakis would have scored easily, but he had started back toward third, and by the time he realized what had happened, it was too late to reverse course.
"If we all knew where the throw was going to end up on the ensuing throw, it would be different, but we don't," Showalter said. "He's out with a pretty easy throw. He's out by a large margin."
Vladimir Guerrero flied to right to end the inning.
A run there would have tied the score and taken Guthrie (1-1) off the hook for the loss. Instead, he was left with a strong outing when he felt far from his best.
"It's a strange feeling. I just don't breathe very well, I get tired. It's like you run a few sprints and get tired," Guthrie said. "Normally, I can run a bunch of sprints before I get tired. One makes me tired now. "
Guthrie's effort wasn't lost on his teammates, especially the younger members of the rotation.
"A few days out of the hospital, that guy is unbelievable," Orioles starter Chris Tillman said. "No complaints, no excuses. He just went out there and competed. That's the kind of guy he is. I think all of us young guys are trying to be like Jeremy Guthrie."