The Orioles arrived at Angel Stadium this afternoon relaxed and rested, buoyed by a rare day off and a pleasant interruption from a season that can't end soon enough.
But approximately 15 minutes or exactly 22 pitches into their series opener against the Los Angeles Angels, the familiar feeling of frustration and despair had resurfaced. That will happen when your starting pitcher allows the first four hitters that he faces to reach base, and needs just 12 pitches to put his team in a four-run hole.
Jo-Jo Reyes' brutal first inning, highlighted by Torii Hunter's three-run homer, proved too much for the Orioles to overcome, and they fell 8-3 in front of an announced 38,156.
"He threw 12 or 13 pitches and gave up four runs," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "He was a completely different guy after that, but at that point, he dug a pretty big hole there especially with Danny Haren out there. That was right up their alley."
The Orioles (47-75) dropped their third consecutive game and their 15th in the last 20 contests, and are back on pace to lose 100 games. Only one Oriole team since 1954 has reached the 100-loss plateau and that was the dreadful 1988 squad that started 0-21 before finishing 54-107.
In the midst of a stretch where they play on 20 straight days and with 27 games still left against American League East foes, the Orioles certainly appear primed to make a serious run at 100 losses, especially if their starting pitching continues to give up early runs at an alarming rate.
The Angels' four-run first against Reyes means that the Orioles have been outscored 94-42 in first innings this year.
"It just gets very challenging for an offense to constantly be digging out of a hole. Starting pitching has been an issue for us. That goes without saying," Showalter said. "You're on the field 15 to 20 minutes the first inning, it seems like. We do that a lot. It really challenges your mentality. I'm proud of the way our guys keep battling back offensively, but you can see it's a challenge for us emotionally when you're constantly playing catch up."
While the Orioles are used to such a result, the Angels were shutout over the first five innings in 42 of their first 125 games this season. They also had been held to four runs or less in six straight games before tonight's offensive outburst.
Against Reyes, Peter Bourjos led off the bottom of the first with a double, Alberto Callaspo singled and Howie Kendrick singled, giving the Angels' a 1-0 lead. Hunter then launched a first-pitch, 90 miles per hour fastball into the left-field seats for a 4-0 lead for the home team.
"I wish I had that first inning back, but I didn't cave and was able to finish strong," said Reyes who allowed five earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out six over five innings, a disappointing follow-up to holding the Detroit Tigers to one run over six innings in his previous start.
Despite trailing by four runs before their second at-bat and facing an All-Star starter, the Orioles brought the tying run to the plate as early as the top of the second inning. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Haren struck out Nolan Reimold looking and retired Josh Bell on a ground ball.
"We are sixth or seventh in the league in batting average, but when we get in those situations, we have to finish it off," Showalter said. "We just got some strikeouts that are really killing us from sustaining anything."
A Matt Wieters' RBI single in the top of the third trimmed the Orioles' deficit to four runs, and two Adam Jones' sacrifice flies one in the fifth and one in the seventh made it a 5-3 game. Before Jones' second sacrifice fly, Nick Markakis' bid to tie the game with a three-run homer was caught at the right-field wall by rookie Mike Trout.
Haren exited the game after seven innings, allowing three earned runs on nine hits while striking out eight in improving to 13-6.
"He's one of the top-tier starters in the league," Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds said of Haren, his former Arizona Diamondbacks' teammate. "He can locate his cutter where he wants it any time. He mixes his fastball in every now and then. He's tough to hit against. He left a couple of balls over the plate that guys got hits on, but other than that, in the big situations, he pitched out of it pretty well. You have to tip your hat to him."
Even after Hunter's second homer of the night, a two-run shot off Willie Eyre in the bottom of the seventh, the Orioles brought the tying run up to the plate in the eighth. A leadoff single by Wieters and back-to-back one-out singles by Robert Andino and Reimold loaded the bases.
However, Angels lefty Scott Downs got Josh Bell to swing-and-miss at a 3-2 fastball, and J.J. Hardy lined out to right field to end the threat.
"It's tough," Reynolds said. "We battled back and we had a ballgame there for a couple of innings. It's frustrating to go out there and have Jo-Jo give up four in the first, but at the same time, it's our job to battle back in the game, and try to get back in there and make it a game."