The state of the Orioles can be gauged by how far manager Phil Regan flings the tie-clip microphone after his post-game news conference. If he takes it off and lays it down, they've played well.
The official Mike-O-Meter after last night's horrible 8-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins: 10 feet, a new record. The Twins, after all, have the worst record in baseball, and they took two of three games from the Orioles this week.
Regan prefaced his mike toss with the harshest words he's had for his team this year. "We didn't play well," he said. "Pitching, hitting, fielding. Nothing.
"There comes a time in the season when you're going to have to start to play like you can, playing like you want to win, and doing things right. If you don't do that, you may win two or three. But you don't win consistently."
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro said: "We should've swept these guys. No excuses."
Regan's anger could've been over the Orioles' failure to master the Twins, who arrived at Camden Yards this week a beaten club. Worst record in baseball. Thumped everywhere they play. A horrendous pitching staff. Somebody stuck a fork in these guys in May.
Their day-to-day drama has not been whether the team can win, but which of the team's few decent players, Rick Aguilera or Kevin Tapani, is going to get traded first. But now Minnesota has won 20 games in 64 tries this year, and four of those wins have come against the Orioles. The Twins have won back-to-back games three times this year. Three times. Two of three times came against the Orioles. This was only the second series the Twins had won all year. The second series.
The manager acknowledged his disgust with the Orioles' play in the ninth inning last night. Trailing 5-2, they made an error, botched a relay, generally looked . . . well, like the Twins.
"As the old cliche goes," third baseman Jeff Huson said, "as bad as a team is on paper, you still have to go out and beat them, and we didn't do that."
Palmeiro said: "Baseball is baseball and at the big-league level, any team can beat any team. We have a good enough team that we should've jumped on these guys, but we didn't."
Rather than have their futility reconfirmed by the Orioles, then, the Twins left Camden Yards last night feeling pretty good. Mike Trombley hadn't won a start since Sept. 26, 1993, and last night he held the Orioles to six hits over six innings and picked up his first victory of the year. Trombley's ERA was 5.50 before last night's game, and he allowed just one earned run.
Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen, Scott Erickson and Trombley have two things in common: First, they are struggling pitchers, their respective ERAs over 5.00. Second, they've beaten the Orioles in the last week.
Unlike the Twins, the Orioles arrived at Camden Yards on a bit of a high, coming off their first winning road trip of the year, and a come-from-behind victory on Sunday against the Blue Jays. They played poorly on Monday night and got away with it, but continued to play badly Tuesday and last night, and they paid the price.
Orioles starter Arthur Rhodes gave up five runs and eight hits in five-plus innings, getting hurt when he fell behind in the count. The Orioles couldn't muster much of an attack against Trombley and the Twins' bullpen, and they were terrible in the field.
The ninth inning belied a team in trouble, because of the Orioles' ragged play. With one out, Minnesota's Matt Walbeck doubled, and Rich Becker singled to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. Then Chuck Knoblauch hit a grounder to second and Manny Alexander threw the ball past Ripken into left field, an error.
Pat Meares doubled into the right-field corner, and the relay from Jeffrey Hammonds came directly to second, rather than home. Knoblauch, however, never stopped running, and beat Ripken's relay home. Those fans who remained among the crowd of 38,845 booed lustily at the lackluster play.
But in truth, the Orioles had been out of the game for some time, because the Twins had their way with Rhodes.
Managers and pitching coaches have been saying for years now that Rhodes' fate is based on his ability -- or inability -- to throw strikes early in the count. The Twins illustrated that point last night.
When Rhodes threw his first pitch for a strike, Minnesota hitters were 1-for-17 with no walks and four strikeouts. When his first pitch was a ball: 4-for-5, a walk, two doubles. DNA evidence is less powerful.
Rhodes got through the first two innings unscathed, although Marty Cordova did him a huge favor. With two outs and a 1-2 count on Jeff Reboulet, Cordova tried stealing third. It's a cardinal sin in baseball to get gunned down at third for the final out of an inning, but that's exactly what happened to Cordova.
Reboulet singled to start the third, moving to second on a grounder to Alexander. No. 9 hitter Jeff Becker singled off Rhodes, putting runners at first and third and one out. Rhodes fell behind in the count to Knoblauch, who doubled to score both runners.
Rhodes got out of the inning without further damage by striking out Meares and retiring Kirby Puckett on a fly ball.
The Orioles got one run back in the third inning. Brady Anderson hit a high fly toward the right-field scoreboard, and Puckett rushed the wall. But he had no play, and the ball bounced about 10 feet up the scoreboard and past Puckett; Anderson went into third standing.
Alexander smashed a low liner toward shortstop, and Anderson froze, waiting to see whether Meares would make the catch. When the ball bounced in front of Meares, Anderson broke for home. Meares glanced at Anderson, pumped -- and then threw to first. Alexander was safe, the look home and pump allowing him to beat the play (Alexander has 14 RBIs in his last 11 games).
The Twins finished off Rhodes in the sixth, scoring three runs.
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
TV/Radio: Zka,4Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer (3-3, 4.24) vs. White Sox's Brian Keyser (2-2, 5.24)