The Orioles quietly packed their belongings late Sunday afternoon and dispersed to various parts of the country, carrying more baggage into the All-Star break than they could have possibly imagined.
After an ejection-marred 8-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles' losing streak stands at seven games. They've won just six of their past 27 contests after a four-game winning streak had brought them within a game of .500 on June 10. They went just 1-9 on their first-half-ending road trip, their worst stretch away from Camden Yards in almost two years, and were outscored 75-33 in the process.
"It was a horrible road trip. There's no good spin to put on it. It's as bad as it could be," said first baseman Derrek Lee, who hit a two-run homer in a six-run second and was part of an offense that got just one hit after that inning. "The way we're playing, it's not fun to come to the ballpark. It's just been a bad run. We need to find a way to get better."
The Orioles enter the break with a 36-52 record, and they have played so wretchedly recently that it would be hard for even the most optimistic fan to find anything to feel good about before the second half resumes Thursday. A season that once held a little promise now appears hopeless.
Their starting pitching has looked overmatched for weeks. Their defense lets down at the worst possible times. Their offense has a nasty habit of failing to get a big hit. And if anybody needed a reminder of those things, they got one in the Orioles' latest loss before an announced 37,688 at sun-drenched Fenway Park. The Orioles led the game 6-2 heading into the bottom of the second but couldn't even hold the lead through the inning.
Starting pitcher Mitch Atkins allowed two first-inning runs, partly because two defensive plays weren't made behind him. He had no excuses for surrendering four more in the second.
In his second career start, Atkins was knocked around for six earned runs on seven hits, including three homers, in just 1 2/3 innings. Kevin Youkilis' two-run shot tied the score at 6 and brought a merciful end to Atkins' afternoon. Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia also hit homers in the second off Atkins, who had held the Texas Rangers to one run over six innings in his first start.
"Pitches were up, and I pretty much couldn't finish guys off," Atkins said. "I couldn't make good pitches to put them away. You make mistakes, and good hitters will make you pay. I'm definitely disappointed."
In the four-game series, Orioles starters pitched to a 15.88 ERA, allowing 20 earned runs on 27 hits, including six homers, and 10 walks while striking out three in only 11 1/3 innings. Over the past 16 games, they have a 9.56 ERA, and only two of them have gone six innings or more in an outing.
Orioles pitchers overall have allowed 10 or more hits in an unfathomable eight straight games.
"We didn't pitch well, and they're swinging the bat," manager Buck Showalter said. "They are 10-1 in the last 11 games, and they are in first place in our division. And you can see why. They are real deep. They are able to withstand a lot of injuries because of their depth and some of the things they are able to do. Their farm system, their payroll, it shows up. We got to emulate some of those things. Hopefully, one day, we will be playing as good of baseball as they are right now because we're not."
The Orioles' bullpen was so taxed and their desperation to finish off the first half with a win was so great that Showalter brought his Opening Night starter, Jeremy Guthrie, into the game after Atkins faltered in the second inning. Guthrie pitched well but surrendered the game-winning run when he issued a bases-loaded walk to David Ortiz with one out in the fourth inning.
"We didn't play well," said Guthrie, who leads the major leagues with 12 losses. "Hopefully, the break serves as a positive going into the second half."
Trailing 7-6, the Orioles had an opportunity to take Guthrie (3-12) off the hook, putting runners on first and third with no outs in the fifth inning. However, Alfredo Aceves (4-1) came in for ejected starter Kyle Weiland and struck out Matt Wieters and Lee before getting Blake Davis to line out.
The Red Sox bullpen -- Aceves (three scoreless), Daniel Bard (one scoreless) and closer Jonathan Papelbon (one scoreless for his 20th save) -- retired 14 consecutive batters before Papelbon issued a two-out walk to J.J. Hardy in the ninth inning. Papelbon struck out Nick Markakis to end a contentious series.
Making his major league debut, Weiland was ejected for hitting Vladimir Guerrero in the fifth inning. He had also hit Mark Reynolds in the third. Both players left the game and were diagnosed with right hand bruises.
Plate umpire Marty Foster warned both benches in the fourth inning after Guthrie hit Youkilis in the left arm with a changeup. Orioles reliever Michael Gonzalez and Showalter were ejected in the sixth after Gonzalez threw a 1-1 fastball behind Ortiz. Ortiz and Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg were the main combatants in a benches-clearing incident in Friday's game, which set the tone for a series in which eight total Orioles and Red Sox were ejected.
The Orioles, who also lost the hit-by-pitch battle, 4-1, over the past two games against Boston (55-35), were none too pleased with the umpiring, but Lee didn't want to hear it.
"Who cares? We lost," Lee said. "The game is not about hitting people and all that nonsense. It's about winning and losing, and they won the game. All of the other stuff is meaningless."
With that, Lee finished getting dressed and headed out of the visiting clubhouse. Several teammates followed him out the door and began the process of distancing themselves from a deflating first half.
"I delivered a little message to them before they left," Showalter said. "They are all going a lot of different directions. Get as far away from it as they can for three days but, at the same time, hopefully get a fresh start afterward and get back to playing good baseball."
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