Baltimore's ace endured the shortest start of his career, tying a personal worst with six walks and sinking the Orioles in a 14-3 loss to the Rays. And he didn't go quietly. Guthrie was removed in the fourth inning and traded words with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook, and a few batters later, Ramon Hernandez was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
The game continued to spiral downward from there, with Tampa Bay scoring the game's first 13 runs and numerous Orioles displaying frustration at one point or another. But the game truly swung on the starter's outing, and Guthrie said that he didn't feel right from the beginning and that his problems with the strike zone were borne out of his struggles.
"On just a couple of occasions, I made an important pitch and maybe it wasn't called the way I thought," he said. "Overall, that definitely didn't dictate much -- just a couple situations where you'd love to get the call and you feel like you've made a good pitch. ... I really respect what Ramon did, though, as far as standing up for the team and also for the pitchers. It was unfortunate that he had to get ejected, but he did that standing up for his teammates and that's commendable."
"I think when you miss one pitch in a key situation, it can change the whole game," added Hernandez. "Instead of bases loaded with no outs, it should be one out and first and second. It changes the whole game or part of the game. After that, you get hits and you don't get pitches called for strikes. Everything just fell apart. You just get angry, period."
Guthrie, who had walked two batters or fewer in 21 of his first 28 starts, bottomed out in the second inning. The right-hander sandwiched two outs around a single in that rally, but then he proceeded to walk four straight Rays. Guthrie (10-11) got back into trouble in the fourth, when he put three men on base and surrendered a two-run double to Cliff Floyd.
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley went to get him at that point, but the Orioles hadn't reached their nadir. Reliever Fernando Cabrera intentionally walked one batter and then served up a grand slam to light-hitting shortstop Ben Zobrist. Gabe Gross added another homer to pad the margin, and Guthrie was charged with a career-high seven earned runs.
"I think it was a case tonight where you can tell Guthrie wasn't on his game," Trembley said. "We've certainly gotten spoiled and accustomed to every time he goes out there, he gives us a quality start. But right from the get-go, he pitched behind and he didn't have command of his fastball. That's usually his bread and butter."
"I didn't feel great physically, but that doesn't mean that tomorrow I'm not going to feel fine," said Guthrie, shaking off questions regarding his workload. "There's nothing you can do [except] continue to pitch. Hopefully, this time next year I can be in the same position and continue to learn from this year. I didn't feel great, but at the same time, that doesn't mean you can't pitch well. I think every pitcher would love to feel 100 percent every time he started, but that's not very realistic."
The Orioles, meanwhile, couldn't get much going against Scott Kazmir. Baltimore (63-71) pushed a runner to third base in the first inning but didn't get its first hit until the fourth. Third baseman Melvin Mora -- one of the hottest hitters in the American League -- left early with a strained left hamstring and Baltimore couldn't replace his offense.
Tampa Bay (82-51) scored three more times in the sixth to advance the rout, and Cabrera sparked a confrontation with his manager. Trembley went to remove him, and Cabrera flipped the ball to him on his way off the mound instead of handing it over. Trembley stared him down, and first-base coach Juan Samuel engaged Cabrera in an animated conversation in the dugout.
"I just spoke to him before I came in here," Trembley said after the game. "He was frustrated that he gave up the home runs and he thought that [Lou] Montanez could've caught the ball. But still, that's not an excuse for what he did. I'll deal with it and when I say I'll deal with it, it won't mean I'll ignore it. I'll deal with it, which means I'll do something about it."
To his credit, Cabrera owned up to his actions and expressed remorse for them after the game.
"That was a bad action," he said. "I apologized, because I have respect for the game. It's not something I did because I felt good doing it or anything like that. It was frustration. I want to step up there. I want to throw my best, and I can't do it and the game's still that way. It's frustration, but I didn't mean to disrespect anybody. I made a mistake and I apologized for it."
Trembley said that the Orioles would try to reduce the strain on Guthrie, who had completed at least six innings in 23 of his first 28 starts. Down the stretch, he said, the Orioles would try to find something that works for their ace. Right now, that likely means backing him off on some of his side work, preserving his arm for his last five starts.
"I think he can just do flat ground and play catch and get ready to pitch next Wednesday," Trembley said of Guthrie, who has 19 quality starts this season. "Then, after that with the day off, we'll probably get him on a six-day slot for a while. I think what he needs to do is back off his throwing between starts, which will probably be really beneficial for him."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.