BALTIMORE -- A strong outing by Orioles starter Bud Norris turned ugly in the eighth inning of Monday's game as the right-hander -- who had just served up a two-run homer -- was ejected after hitting Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter with a pitch, sparking a benches-clearing incident.
Norris, who walked off the field after both benches and bullpens had emptied, continued to exchange barbs with Hunter -- who was at first base -- from the dugout. It was a sour ending to a once-promising night, as Norris watched his quality start slip away in the fateful final frame, allowing Detroit to put up a lead that Baltimore had no answer for in the 4-1 series-opening loss.
"It's kind of a weird time," Norris said of his first career ejection, which he thought was spurred by Hunter's reaction. "Because he says something I'm immediately tossed? ... It's a little frustrating."
Norris, who allowed a two-run homer to Ian Kinsler the batter before, threw a slider to Hunter and said he didn't like that first swing, so he opted to go inside. The 0-1 offering drilled Hunter in the ribs, and home-plate umpire James Hoye -- sensing intent -- immediately gave Norris the thumb.
"As an umpire, it wasn't rocket science," crew chief Bob Davidson said of the call. "I really think that that was the right thing to do."
Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger didn't agree.
"We've been working in all game long," he said of Norris, who threw a season-high 113 pitches. "[Tigers reliever Ian] Krol came in the last inning and buzzed Nicky [Markakis] a couple times and nothing was said, but when we worked in and got hit, he ejected him. I don't agree with the call, but the call is the call."
"A lot of people have a lot of opinions, but I'll tell you right now, I'm going out there and trying to get outs," said Norris, who had a benches-clearing incident with Red Sox catcher David Ross last month and jawed with Pirates infielder Neil Walker on May 1 after he hit him with a pitch.
"David Ross apologized immediately after that one," Norris said. "I don't know what's going to happen here. Torii can take what he wants from it. But I'm trying to throw a fastball over the plate, trying to get a ground ball to third base."
Still, Norris may have earned himself a bit of a reputation.
"I heard bad things about him," Hunter said. "But you can't go by what you hear. But after tonight, maybe so."
Hunter said he wasn't trying to get Norris ejected, but he questioned how the righty -- who was pitching so well -- all of a sudden lost his command.
"It hurts," Hunter said of the 94-mph fastball. "I wasn't gonna rub it on national TV. It hurts. I've been around for a long time. Even if he didn't try to do it, it looks fishy, suspicious. I don't know if he did it on purpose or not. I thought he pitched a tremendous game."
But in the end it went for naught as the season-high 7 2/3-innings effort from Norris was squandered by an ineffective offense, wasting several impressive defensive plays -- including one by Norris -- in the defeat.
At 95 pitches to start the eighth, Norris issued a leadoff walk, and two outs later Kinsler hit a two-run homer to extend Detroit's lead to three. After Norris' second pitch hit Hunter the fireworks went off in front of 24,517 at Camden Yards as the two started yelling at each other and both benches cleared.
"Have you ever been hit with a 94-mph fastball in? I understand the emotion," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Hunter, who continued to yell at Norris even when the O's pitcher sat in the dugout.
"These are guys that care on both sides. You have to play the game with emotion. You have to care," Showalter said. "I understand all sides of it. It happens. It happens with people competing on this level because they care and play with emotion."
Norris retired the first nine in a row -- striking out four -- before Kinsler's leadoff walk in the fourth inning that led to a pair of runs. Kinsler promptly stole second and advanced to third on Hunter's flyout, then tied the game on Miguel Cabrera's single. After Victor Martinez doubled, the Tigers took the lead on a deep sacrifice fly by Austin Jackson.
Norris, who made a running grab at the Tigers' railing in the fifth, watched Kinsler's second leadoff single get erased as Clevenger threw him out trying to steal second base in the sixth. Norris struck out Hunter, and shortstop J.J. Hardy made a fantastic diving catch on Cabrera's liner to end the inning and keep the O's deficit at one.
Clevenger, the O's primary backstop with catcher Matt Wieters on the disabled list, helped Norris erase a leadoff single in the seventh as well. With one out, Norris struck out Nick Castellanos, and Clevenger bumped into Castellanos and fell while trying to throw out Jackson at second. Hoye ruled obstruction on the play to end the inning.
"James is a good umpire. He's trying to do what's right," Showalter said of Hoye's decision the following frame to toss Norris. "I understand what it looked like. He had a tough call there to make. There's no instant replay to judge intent. Things happen in the heat of emotion and intensity, and he's got to make a decision.
"We just didn't score any runs. One run on a ball that was close to being caught. Otherwise they pitch a shutout. That's what I'm going home with tonight."
Clevenger, who drove in the Orioles' only run with a double in the second, gave the Orioles their first runner on second base since the second with a leadoff double off Krol to open the bottom of the seventh inning. But Kroll retired the next three straight on a pair of flyouts and Jonathan Schoop's infield dribbler to end the threat.
Tigers starter Rick Porcello, who entered the game 0-3 with a 5.19 ERA in three career starts at Camden Yards, held Baltimore to just one run over six innings. After the O's second-inning run, the right-hander scattered three singles the rest of the way before exiting early with tightness in his side.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.