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STL@BAL: Hardy blasts a solo shot in the eighth

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles and Cardinals made history on Tuesday night, as St. Louis became the final Major League team to visit the famed ballpark at Camden Yards. But by the time Felix Pie grounded out to second baseman Nick Punto for out No. 27, the story from the home clubhouse could be summed up in one word: Forgettable.

The final result was a 6-2 series-opening loss in front of a crowd of 20,556, most of whom waited out a 28-minute rain delay in the top of the sixth inning to watch the Orioles (35-41) drop a season-high six games under .500 for the fourth time this year.

Fresh off a series win over the Reds, during which the offense averaged more than six runs a game, the Orioles were shut out by every Cardinal pitcher not named Ryan Franklin, who recorded just one out and surrendered a pair of runs to put his roster spot in peril.

Meanwhile, rookie Zach Britton continued his recent funk in a subpar, weather-shortened, 5 2/3-inning start that was followed with spotty relief.

"That's the top-hitting team in the National League," manager Buck Showalter said of the Albert Pujols-less St. Louis lineup. "It's more a case of us not doing much against [starter Kyle] Lohse and their bullpen, other than Franklin. Holding them to three or four, we'll take that."

Britton (6-6) breezed through the first inning before allowing a trio of runs -- all of which were plated by two-out singles -- in a 30-pitch second. Though the 23-year-old righted himself after that, surrendering only a solo homer to Colby Rasmus in the sixth inning, he has struggled to mimic some of his early-season dominance and fallen victim to plain bad luck, with just one win in his last 10 starts.

"[The coaching staff and I] look at the last couple of starts, and there's a handful I could have won easily," said Britton, who jumped out to a 5-1 record to begin his career.

"We think about that. It's not that I haven't pitched well. There are games that I haven't pitched well at all and deserved to lose. But at the same time, I knew throughout some of these stretches, I threw the ball [well]. It just hasn't worked out for me in the win-loss column."

"It's very misleading," added outfielder Luke Scott, who bruised his right knee while saving reliever Jason Berken from giving up a two-run homer in the ninth. "[Britton has] done a great job every game that we've played with him on the mound. We've sometimes struggled offensively, but he's done a good job for us."

That was the case again on Tuesday, when the Orioles had no answer for Lohse, who was chased by the in-game delay.

"I felt strong," said Lohse, who tossed five scoreless innings, allowing four hits and walking one, in his first start against the Orioles since 2002. "I wish that rain hadn't come in. I felt I could have gotten quite a bit deeper than just five. But you can't do anything about the weather."

And the Orioles couldn't do anything with their early chances, stranding a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in each of the first two innings. No. 9 batter Robert Andino, who went down looking at a called third strike to leave runners on the corners in the second, was doubled off first base on J.J. Hardy's line drive to end the fifth.

"That shouldn't happen," Showalter said of Andino's baserunning gaffe. "That was disappointing."

So was the quicker-than-anticipated exit by Britton, who left once play was officially suspended two outs into the top of the sixth, with both of his successors -- Clay Rapada and Berken -- charged a run.

The 90-pitch outing by Britton -- an early-season candidate for American League Rookie of the Year -- wasn't bad, but it was indicative of the learning curve in the Major Leagues and the factors that go into succeeding at baseball's highest level.

"It's a process for him, and he's doing some things real well, and some things he'll do better at as he goes forward," Showalter said of Britton, who has a 3.38 ERA in his first 15 starts. "He's doing well, all things considered -- you take all things into perspective."

The only positive takeaway on Tuesday was the continued power from Hardy, who sent Franklin's full-count offering over the fence in left-center to put the Orioles on the board in the eighth.

Hardy, batting leadoff in lieu of injured Brian Roberts, has hit nine of his 11 homers in June, and 12 of his last 20 hits are of the extra-base variety.

His hit gave the O's offense a little life, as Nick Markakis -- who extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a double in the first inning -- followed with a single and scored on Adam Jones' double. That RBI closed the gap to four and ended Franklin's evening, but reliever Fernando Salas erased any thoughts of a big inning, retiring middle-of-the-order batters Vladimir Guerrero and Matt Wieters -- who combined to leave five men on base -- to keep the Cardinals ahead.

"They pitched well," Mark Reynolds said. "We've got to come out [on Wednesday] and try to win a game." Comments