Jason Hammel capped his remarkable first-half -- one in which he emerged from nowhere to become the Orioles' most dependable starter and nearly make the American League All-Star team -- with his ninth quality start in 17 starts this season against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for Hammel and the Orioles, they were facing a pitcher who is having one of the best first halves in years.
Angels right-hander Jered Weaver, who might be the AL starting pitcher in Tuesday's All-Star Game, threw eight shutout innings, holding the Orioles to just three hits and striking out five, lowering his season ERA to a major-league best 1.96 as Baltimore lost, 3-0, in front of an announced crowd of 41,147 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
Weaver also became the second pitcher since 1950 with 10 or more first-half wins and a sub-2.00 ERA in consecutive seasons. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy Koufax did it in 1963 and 1964. Weaver is 14-2 with 1.48 ERA in 22 home starts over the past two seasons. He's 6-0 with a 0.58 ERA at home this season.
"Weaver is pretty much unbeatable at home so any runs you give up, it makes it that much harder," Hammel said. "I thought I pitched pretty well, but had some bad pitches there in the seventh."
Weaver retired 12 of the final 13 Orioles hitters he faced -- Jim Thome's seventh-inning single was the only baserunner in that span -- and he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Of his 10 wins this season, it was Weaver's third in as many starts against the Orioles, pitching to a 1.52 ERA against the Birds.
"It's his park. I've seen his career numbers in this park and they are pretty amazing," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "We had a couple good chances early and then we let him get in the groove. A pitcher like Weaver, he gets in the groove he's in the groove. And that's what happened."
The Orioles (45-39), who were shut out for the fifth time this year, had just two runners in scoring position all night and Wilson Betemit's two-out double in the third was their only extra-base hit. Two of the Orioles' three hits came from the bottom third of the order and the top six batters in the Orioles batting order were a combined 1-for-17.against Weaver.
As for Hammel, the loss was a disappointing way to go into the All-Star break.
"[The first half] is definitely a step in the right direction personally, but I still got some work to do, obviously," said Hammel about his performance so far this season. "It's a good start, but we still got a half season left, a lot of ball games. And we are still in this thing."
Hammel worked out of trouble early against a team with the second-best batting average in the American League. After stranding two runners on base in both the second and third innings, he gave up three runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings. He also walked four batters, the most since June 10, when he issued five against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"He's had a great first half. Their guy was just a little bit better," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Weaver's really good. We're not the only ones he's picking on. We split against two really good pitchers and we'll try to split the series tomorrow and end the pre-All-Star break on a good note."
In the second, he issued a two-out walk to Alberto Callaspo and then hit Howie Kendrick with a pitch, but he induced a flyout from Erick Aybar to get out of the inning. Hammel also faced runners at first and third with no outs the next inning, but retired the heart of the Angels order -- Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales.
The Angels (47-38) finally got to Hammel in the fourth on Kendrick's one-out single up the middle, scoring Mark Trumbo from second. Trumbo led off the inning with a single to left and reached second on a fielding error by Avery.
Hammel recovered to retire eight straight until tiring in the seventh. He issued a one-out walk to No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson. After Mike Trout beat out a double play ball, Hunter's two-out opposite-field double scored Trout.
Hammel issued an intentional walk to Pujols with first base open, but Morales singled in Hunter to make it 3-0 and chase a disappointed Hammel from the game.
"He's given us a chance to win pretty much every time out," Showalter said of Hammel. "We couldn't ask for more and knowing Hamm, he's not going to take any 'feel good' from that. He pitched as well as any guy can for the most part. And there wasn't going to be much margin for error against Weaver obviously."