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The scores of the most recent games no longer matter, it seems, and neither do the opponents. The reality is that Baltimore has a good shot to finish with the worst record in the major leagues.

The O's lost to last-place Tampa Bay, 9-7, a team that should be a break on the schedule, but is now just as formidable as any team at the top of the AL East -- at least from Baltimore's point of view. And it almost seems to figure that a Carlos Pena mortar shot with the scored tied, 2-2 -- that Nick Markakis looked as if he were drawing a bead on at the warning track -- hit some hardware that holds the lights at Tropicana Field and was ruled a two-run home run. The Devil Rays slugger now has 35 homers, second in the AL.

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Making things even more glum is that the O's are not only beaten -- 12 losses in the last 13 games -- but pretty battered as well. Erik Bedard is back in Baltimore, getting his right oblique muscle examined and only Daniel Cabrera remains as an original starter from the beginning of the season. Where once it was the starting pitching that could be counted on while the bullpen faltered, now it's a crapshoot every inning, every night. Even Jeremy Guthrie, who pitches today, has fallen on hard times. Guthrie hasn't won since July 27 and although he has had a couple of decent outings, his ERA has climbed steadily from 2.89 to 3.62.

* One of the hottest races in the majors is for the AL wild card, where the Yankees and Mariners are locked in a battle and Detroit is closing in. The Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki led a 7-1 win over New York with three hits, including a homer, and Roger Clemens left the game with a tight elbow and is having an MRI. In the meantime, Mike Mussina, who lost his spot in the rotation, was so-so at best in relief, giving up two runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.

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