BALTIMORE - The Orioles squandered quality starts on Monday and Tuesday. Ten minutes into Wednesday's game, there was no danger that would happen for a third night in a row.
Baltimore starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez struggled mightily, putting the Orioles into a quick five-run hole, and the team's scuffling offense is in no position to dig out right now, eventually losing 10-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays before 19,582 at Camden Yards.
Gonzalez (2-2), who had been more than solid in his first three starts for Baltimore, needed 75 pitches to record eight outs, allowing 12 baserunners and seven earned runs in 2 2-3 innings. Catcher Taylor Teagarden said he could tell his starter didn't have it "three or four batters in."
The 28-year-old right-hander, who had given up just six earned runs total in his previous three starts for Baltimore, said he had a hard time gripping the ball.
"I didn't have my stuff tonight. The ball was just slipping," said Gonzalez, who walked two and hit three batters. "I just want to forget about tonight's game."
It was 5-0 before Tampa Bay starter David Price took the mound, more than enough cushion for the Rays' ace. The major league leader in wins, Price ran his record to 14-4 with a tidy seven innings, during which he allowed one run on seven hits while fanning 10.
It was the third straight game in which Baltimore managed just one run and the Orioles struck out 13 times marking the 35th time in 98 games they've had double-digit whiffs, most in the majors.
"We're all frustrated. We want to come through for the team," said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who had two hits and the team's only RBI. "Every team I've been on, it seems like we're having this conversation at some point during the season. We'll get out of it."
The Orioles dropped their third straight after winning five in a row. They fell to 51-47 as Tampa improved to the same record. Both teams are tied for fourth in the race for two wildcard playoff berths.
The 168-pitch fiasco that featured seven walks and four hit batsmen by Baltimore pitchers ended a stretch of seven consecutive games in which the Orioles allowed three runs or fewer, their longest such streak since 2001.
Manager Buck Showalter conceded the team knew full well there would be little margin for error against Price.
It was a bad sign when Desmond Jennings hit Gonzalez's first pitch into the left-field stands for a solo homer. A single, a wild pitch, a walk, another single, consecutive hit batsmen and another single later it was 5-0, the inning mercifully ended only by a baserunning blunder.
Showalter had a one-word answer for Gonzalez's tough night.
"Command. The thing he's been good with," the manager said. "He didn't really carry the secondary stuff early. The changeup/split that's been a good pitch for him, he didn't really have a feel for it tonight. But he's pitched well for us. Tonight, he didn't."
A two-run homer by Ryan Roberts, acquired from Arizona after Tuesday night's game, made it 7-1 in the third. Gonzalez then loaded the bases on a single, a walk and yet another hit batsmen, and his night was over.
Reliever Matt Lindstrom got out of the bases-loaded jam, but had his own control problems. He walked two batters to start the fifth, fell behind two balls, no strikes to catcher Jose Lobaton, and then served up a three-run shot into the flag court in right for Lobaton's first career home run.
Even after yielding 10 runs, though, the Orioles' hitting appears to be their primary concern. Hardy said it can return as quickly as it vanished.
"It sounds silly but it just kind of happens, like a snowball effect," he said. "When [a few] guys aren't hitting, everyone's not hitting and when a couple guys start to hit, everyone starts to hit. It's just going to take a few hits from a few guys and I think we'll turn it around."