Over 13-plus years of losing baseball, the Orioles have seemingly hit rock bottom so many times that it's impossible to recount.
They finished 4-32 in 2002 and started 2-16 in 2010. They went from first place to fourth in a little more than three months in 2005. They were beaten by the Texas Rangers, 30-3, in 2007, then were no-hit by the Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz in his second career start just two weeks later. They've endured repeated shakeups in the manager's office and in the front office, steroid scandals and arrests.
And yet, if a long-suffering Orioles fan called what he or she is currently watching one of the most disappointing and discouraging stretches in recent franchise history, it would be hard to mount a counterargument. A day after a late-game collapse, even these Orioles might not be able to put together a more inept game then they did Sunday, falling, 7-1, to complete a three-game sweep for the Los Angeles Angels in front of an announced 37,148.
"We didn't play well today," said Matt Wieters, who accounted for the Orioles' only run with a seventh-inning homer. "There's no hiding that. We didn't play good defense today. We didn't drive in enough runs."
Wieters could have gone on because there was plenty more to say about the game -- and the series -- the Orioles had just completed. They were outscored 24-12 in getting swept by the Angels for the first time since September 2006.
On Sunday, the Orioles made three errors, a season high for a nine-inning game, and it could have been four, but the official scorer took one away after the game. The unsightly defense aside, starter Brian Matusz took another step backward, allowing six runs (five earned) on nine hits and a walk over four innings while falling to 1-6 with an 8.92 ERA.
The offense made a winner out of journeyman right-hander Jerome Williams, managing just six base runners over seven innings against a pitcher who started the 2011 season with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Williams (1-0) won his first big league game since Sept. 25, 2005, in his first big league start since May 15, 2007.
Overall, the Orioles were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and didn't score despite having the bases loaded and no outs in a three-run game in the fourth inning.
"The first three innings, he looked like a Cy Young winner," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said of Williams. "We had three opportunities [in the series] with the bases loaded and less than two outs, and we haven't gotten any runs off it. Three times. You understand once, maybe twice, but not three times. I don't want to say focus harder, but point blank, we got to get it done as a team."
The Orioles are a season-worst 30 games under .500 at 47-77. They've lost five straight games, are 18-42 away from Camden Yards and are 1-5 on this road trip, which continues Monday night in Minnesota.
They will need to go 16-22 the rest of the way to avoid the club's second 100-loss season since 1954. Twenty-seven of the Orioles' final 34 games are against the American League East, and the Twins are the only sub-.500 team they play the rest of the season.
Asked whether this has been the toughest stretch of his Orioles career, right fielder Nick Markakis said: "I don't know if this is the toughest. I've had a lot of tough stretches, but it's definitely up there. We're losing. It [stinks]. It is what it is. It's not like we're not trying. We're going out there every day and playing. It's just things aren't going our way."
Markakis was among a number of Orioles who slumped in chairs in front of their lockers after the game. Had it not been for the rustling of equipment bags as players packed up and headed out of the clubhouse, it would have been stone-cold silence.
"I don't know about morale when you are behind four, five runs to start the game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Effort or concentration levels are some nights not what I wanted it to be, but I also understand some of the challenges being placed on our guys that not many clubs are having to deal with."
A day after a 12-inning loss, Showalter managed with a two-man bench as Mark Reynolds (sore left ankle) was unavailable. Wieters started at first base for the first time in his big league career, and Blake Davis started at third base for the first time as a major leaguer.
Predictably, the ball found Davis early and often. He booted Maicer Izturis' ground ball to start the first. He couldn't come up with Vernon Wells' bouncer in the second. The play was initially ruled an error but changed after the game. Davis made another error in the eighth, this one on an errant throw with which he was trying to get the speedy Peter Bourjos, who homered for the third consecutive game for the Angels (69-59).
"I was terrible. There's no way around it," said Davis, who started one game at third this season for Triple-A Norfolk. "Not a good showing, so you just take it and swallow it, and it is what it is. I was terrible."
Davis had plenty of company. Catcher Craig Tatum threw a ball into left field that brought in a run. Left fielder Felix Pie lost one ball in the sun and took a circuitous route to another. And Matusz simply didn't have it in his second start since spending 11/2 months on a minor league demotion.
"It's tough, but it's a new day every day," Matusz said. "You have to be able to bring a positive attitude in the clubhouse every day, be able to pick each other up, stay positive, keep fighting and keep working hard. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of good ballplayers, and we all get along really well. It's just a matter of keep working hard and keep at it."
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