When third base umpire Phil Cuzzi incorrectly called Nick Markakis out at third base on a steal attempt in the fifth inning of the Chicago White Sox's 4-3 victory Tuesday night, the Orioles began an inevitable limp toward their ninth defeat in 11 games.
Cuzzi's mistake, though, didn't really cost the Orioles a fleeting chance at victory, not when stacked against all the other miscues that have become the norm at Camden Yards this season. Orioles second baseman Robert Andino missed a key tag in the third inning, Markakis failed to dash home from second on a liner to center in the fourth and the Orioles twice couldn't score after their leadoff hitter doubled.
It was just another loss -- putting the Orioles (44-69) a season-worst 25 games under .500 -- and just another opportunity to beat themselves. It was the second consecutive night the Orioles dropped a one-run game that burst with fundamental errors.
"Yeah, those kinds of plays are magnified times 10 with the situation that we're in. A lot of guys are either trying to do too much or they're putting themselves in tough situations," Markakis said. "When it all comes down to it, you just have to relax and play the game. It's obvious. There's no secret we are losing. It looks a lot worse when we're in the situation that we're in. We just need to relax and finish up strong."
The Orioles have lost 29 of their past 38 and haven't won 12 consecutive series.
This one got away in the fifth, moments before Orioles manager Buck Showalter got tossed for the second time this season -- he was automatically ejected July 10 in Boston when reliever Michael Gonzalez threw behind Red Sox slugger David Ortiz after both benches had been warned.
On Tuesday, Showalter's ejection was dutifully earned, with the skipper bending Cuzzi's ear for the miscall that helped squelch the Orioles' lone big inning. On his way back to the dugout, Showalter kicked at the dirt by the third base bag -- a little Earl Weaver-esque showmanship that energized the announced crowd of 14,177.
"It's one of those things. It's unfortunate. You can usually go back to three or four things that would have made it not matter, but it's tough," Showalter said. "Things happen quickly, and [Cuzzi] didn't see it the way that it was."
The Orioles trailed 4-0 heading into the fifth, managing just three base runners in four scoreless innings against Chicago right-hander Gavin Floyd, a Mount St. Joseph alum who readily admits to liking the Orioles as a child.
But in the fifth, Floyd allowed three straight singles before J.J. Hardy grounded out for the Orioles' first run. Markakis followed with an RBI single to right, and Adam Jones hit a slow grounder to short that Alexi Ramirez muffed, allowing Hardy to cut the score to 4-3.
With Vladimir Guerrero at the plate and one out, Markakis and Jones orchestrated a double-steal attempt. The throw went to third, and TV replays showed that Markakis' left hand was clearly on the bag before Brent Morel tagged Markakis' left elbow.
Cuzzi signaled for the second out, and Markakis jumped off the bag to immediately complain.
"He didn't say nothing to me," Markakis said of Cuzzi. "But everything is going fast and you make a decision, and whether it's the right one or wrong one, you live with it and you move on."
Showalter came out to defend his player and third base coach Willie Randolph and got ejected, eventually handing the managing reins over to bench coach John Russell.
Once the dust settled, Guerrero hit the next pitch to Morel for the third out. Floyd (10-10) allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings, and the White Sox's bullpen held the Orioles scoreless for the rest of the night.
"It's big. It's definitely big," Markakis said of the call. "Late in the game, in the situation we're in, you have to make sure you're making the right call. It didn't go our way, and here we are talking about it."
Markakis also had a chance to give the Orioles a run in fourth when he doubled to lead off the inning and was on second when Guerrero hit a sharp liner up the middle. Markakis broke back toward second, thinking he might get doubled off, before realizing where the ball landed. He made it to third but was stranded when Floyd struck out Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds.
"That's a line drive right at you and your first natural reaction is to freeze, but I got to do a better job of knowing where my shortstop is and knowing where those guys are. It was a bad play on my part," Markakis said. "We had other opportunities. A lot of, what-ifs, but the ballgame ended and we ended up losing. So there's nothing you can really say now."
The Orioles remained within striking distance because of a strong performance by Chris Jakubauskas, who threw four-plus innings of scoreless relief. He allowed just two hits and two walks, facing one batter in the ninth before being pulled for Jason Berken, who pitched a scoreless frame.
"It's been a while since I've gone four-plus, but coming into a game, you got to go with the mentality that we are going to get it back and get it close," Jakubauskas said. "Give our guys, at the least, a chance to get it back, get a chance to hit. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done."
Jakubauskas was needed in the fifth because Jo-Jo Reyes, making his first start as an Oriole, lasted just four innings.
Reyes (5-9) was perfect in the first, then was scored upon in each of his next three innings. He served up two homers, solo shots by Carlos Quentin in the second and Morel in the fourth.
"I felt good," Reyes said. "The only thing that makes me mad is that last home run I gave up to Morel. I fell behind, gave him too good of a pitch to hit."
In the third, Chicago's run was set up by a leadoff walk and another lackadaisical defensive play -- something that has haunted the Orioles recently. Ramirez walked, and after a tremendous diving stab by Mark Reynolds for the first out, Ramirez attempted to steal second.
"We had a tag play at second on a stolen base," Showalter said. "We were in a spot we shouldn't have been. Should have been an out there at second, and that was unfortunate."
It was the fifth straight win for the White Sox (57-58) and just another giveaway loss for the Orioles.
"Yeah, it's tough," Markakis said. "We had plenty of opportunities to capitalize, starting with myself. You make small mistakes in the game, and they come back and bite you in the butt."
Notes: Davis was back in the starting lineup after missing four games because of a strained right shoulder. Showalter said he has considered making lineup changes, including moving a struggling Guerrero out of the cleanup spot, but has stuck with the familiar alignment so far. Despite the additions of Tommy Hunter and Reyes to the rotation, Showalter said the Orioles are still considering converting Jim Johnson to a starting role. Showalter said he'll have a better idea of whether it will happen at the end of the month. One day after making errors in consecutive games, third baseman Josh Bell took early fielding practice with infield coach Willie Randolph and instructor Mike Bordick. Second baseman Brian Roberts (concussion) did not participate in baseball activities in Sarasota, Fla., as he continues his rehabilitation. Jake Arrieta left the team and will have his right elbow examined by orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum on Wednesday with surgery to remove a bone spur expected Friday if Yocum deems it necessary. Infielder Cesar Izturis (groin) had an MRI on Tuesday, and Showalter said it didn't reveal anything unexpected. He was put on the disabled list Monday.