ARLINGTON, Texas — After the Orioles' 5-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night, center fielder Adam Jones said he walked into the visiting clubhouse and sensed the right vibe, one that's been prevalent throughout this surprising season.
“The first thing I said after the game, when I came in the clubhouse, was, ‘Hey, it's the first game of the series. You thought it was gonna be easy?' We're good,” said Jones, who had two of the Orioles' four hits Monday. “In previous years, you lose a game and you come into the clubhouse, it's like a mortuary. Here, nah, it's still just as crisp as it's always been all year. We lose a game, it happens. But we're gonna come out tomorrow with a better plan.”
The Orioles (66-56) lost for just the third time in eight games, but they have now dropped four of five to the American League West-leading Rangers (71-51) this season. In those five games, the Orioles have been outscored 41-16.
But this is a team that has won its last three road series in tough places — Yankee Stadium, Tropicana Field and Comerica Park. So Jones said his teammates aren't fazed — not after the way they've battled back all year.
“We need to win series at this point of the season,” Jones said. “We have been doing that of late, and we just need to continue that trend. But it is tough against a tough Texas team.”
In a season of surprises, rookie Miguel Gonzalez may qualify as the biggest one for the Orioles, a 29-year-old right-hander signed this February as a minor-league free agent.
Gonzalez, who has been in pro ball since 2004 and missed two full seasons because of injuries, hadn't pitched in the majors before this season yet entered Monday night as one of the best pitchers in the American League in August.
He couldn't continue that dominance Monday in what, statistically, was Gonzalez's worst start since July 25. He lasted just five innings, allowing eight hits, three walks and four runs while throwing 101 pitches.
“My fastball and my slider were good, but my split-finger and my curveball weren't there today. I couldn't really get a feel for them,” said Gonzalez (5-3), who hadn't lost in four previous starts. “That's a tough team. When they have runners on base, they are going to try and do any little things to score some runs.”
Gonzalez allowed a baserunner in each inning he pitched, but it wasn't until the fourth that the Rangers broke through. The best hitting club in the AL — the Rangers entered Monday with a .276 team average, 32 points higher than the Orioles — scored three runs in the inning by stringing together several, hole-finding singles.
David Murphy's blooper and Geovany Soto's grounder each were placed perfectly, and Ian Kinsler added a sacrifice fly in the inning.
“You couldn't throw the balls out there better than that,” Jones said. “They got a couple knocks, and they got the bloop by Murphy.”
Nelson Cruz's RBI double in the fifth plated the fourth run and helped chase Gonzalez, who had allowed three runs in his last three starts combined (21 innings pitched). He had been 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three August starts.
“I thought Miguel was good. I thought he pitched well tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “The game is not always fair.”
The Orioles took an early lead against veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster, who was making his fourth start for Texas after a July 31 trade from the Chicago Cubs.
The only run against Dempster (2-1) could have been charged to the Rangers' defense. With two outs in the first inning, Nate McLouth hit a ball to right that Cruz misread, jumping about eight feet to the right of where it landed.
Jones followed with a liner that first baseman Mitch Moreland reached with his glove but could not catch. McLouth scored from first on Jones' team-leading 63rd RBI of the season.
Dempster, who had his start pushed back after he was placed on the restricted list for personal reasons, allowed two baserunners in an inning just once after that. He threw eight superb innings, allowing the lone run on four hits and two walks while fanning six. It was by far his best start for his new club.
“He's got a track record of a good pitcher,” Showalter said of Dempster. “Those are type of things that guys like him are capable of doing. Obviously he was a great addition for them.”
Texas closer Joe Nathan struck out the side in a non-save situation in the ninth.
Orioles relievers Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom threw perfect innings, but lefty J.C. Romero, in his fourth Orioles' appearance, allowed a run in the eighth.
In the end, the Orioles walked off the field with the loss. But Jones, for one, said they know it was just one game — and that they still have a chance to win another series.
“We've got five and a half, six weeks left in the season. Every game at this point is — I'm not saying do or die, but [they are] damn near,” he said. “We are trying to do something that hasn't been done [in Baltimore] in a long time, and coming here to Texas is a big stepping stone because they're a first place team, they have the [Los Angeles] Angels on their tail and they still want to play good ball going into September.
“And we are trying to do the same thing.”