The Orioles are scheduled to vote today on how to divvy up playoff shares, but if the kind of effort that was on display in last night's 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees keeps up, there won't be anything to split.
The Orioles, who had aspirations of finishing second in the American League East, now are closer to fourth place than to runner-up. Last night they fell into a third-place tie with Detroit, while falling 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees with four games with the division champion Toronto Blue Jays to come.
Granted, Yankees starter Jimmy Key (18-6) was the main source of the Orioles' consternation, holding them to just one double and three singles in seven innings, striking out nine, before Chris Hoiles set a club record with his two-run homer in the eighth off Bobby Munoz.
But the Orioles did themselves no favors, with sloppy, listless play that recalled their departure from contention for first place.
"Not enough hitting, pitching and defense. Other than that, that says it all," said manager Johnny Oates.
One could hardly blame Oates for slightly fractured syntax. Watching the kind of baseball the Orioles trotted out last night before an announced crowd of 45,886 can be pretty mind-numbing.
Need proof? How about the New York eighth inning? With the Yankees leading 4-1, and runners on first and second and no one out, David Segui took too sharp an angle coming down from first base for the expected bunt, turning Jim Leyritz's sacrifice into a single.
Don Mattingly, who had homered off hard-luck starter and loser Jamie Moyer in the third inning, singled to right off Brad Pennington to drive in two runs and break the game wide open.
The generous Orioles still weren't through. Cal Ripken booted a double-play grounder by Danny Tartabull to let in another run as the Orioles stumbled to their 10th loss in 13 games.
Moyer (12-9), in his final start, was, to be sure, nowhere near as crisp as he had been throughout the year, when he had become the Orioles' most reliable starter. Last night he gave up seven hits and three runs in 4 2/3 innings, his shortest stint in almost two months.
But Moyer, who missed his third try at a career-high 13th win, deserved a better fate than he got, and much more support from a crowd that failed when he walked off the mound to recognize four months of quality pitching that kept the Orioles in the pennant race far longer than perhaps they should have been.
"I didn't expect to go out of here tonight with this," said Moyer. "I expected a better outing. I'll have to sit on this one all winter and it won't be good. But it gives me motivation."
Said Oates: "We can sit here and make excuses for this and that, but he really wasn't hit that hard."
Moyer, who was in trouble for most of the night, did well to avoid a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first inning, by striking out Tartabull and getting Mike Stanley and Bernie Williams to pop up meekly to left field and to second base.
"I felt happy to get out of that, but there were certain situations to certain hitters where I was just trying to get on track," said Moyer. "What was happening, I don't know, or even if I can explain it."
Sure enough, the Yankees, who beat Moyer, 4-1, in New York on Aug. 14, pounced on him in the third, when Mattingly homered to the right-field plaza, and Tartabull and Stanley pieced together doubles that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Key, who has fleeting hopes of a Cy Young Award, was masterful over the Orioles, working the corners with a decent fastball and excellent breaking pitches.
"After the first inning, I locked in on my control," said Key. "In Toronto [last weekend] I never found my control. [Last night] I did."
By the end of the night, the Yankees had 15 hits, at least one by every starter, as they reduced their second-place magic number to two.
"It was a big game for us because we were going for second place," Key said. "First is done, so second means a lot to this organization and these guys in here in this clubhouse."
Yankees manager Buck Showalter said Key is responsible for much of the Yankees' success.
"He's been a rock of consistency since Day One," Showalter said. "I don't know where we'd be without Jimmy. We take a lot of pride in his success."
The lone Orioles highlight was Hoiles' 28th home run, a two-run shot to left in the eighth, that drove in his 78th and 79th runs of the year, breaking Gus Triandos' 35-year-old record for most RBI by an Orioles catcher in a single season.
"I don't think there's any question of his offensive performance," Oates said of Hoiles. "And from what I've seen behind the plate this year if he stays healthy he's one guy we can count on."
Whether the Orioles can scrounge up a second-place finish may depend on whether Oates can find other players to depend on.