Exactly how far down is rock bottom, anyway?
Just when it appears the Orioles have hit it, they manage to claw a little deeper. And the hole above them is closing fast.
Where once they walked into the Bronx with a swagger, the Orioles are all stagger these days as they head to New York, the latest dizzying turn a 6-3 loss last night to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 45,033 at Camden Yards that completed a four-game sweep and gave them a share of last place in the American League East.
The Orioles (20-23) greet the Yankees as losers of five straight and six of seven. They've dropped 21 of 31 since April 14, when they were 10-2. They've fallen 11 games behind New York, trailing by 14 in the loss column, and must depend on emergency starter Doug Johns to stop the bleeding tonight after putting Mike Mussina on the disabled list.
It's no longer too soon to panic.
This is the first five-game losing streak for the Orioles since last Aug. 30-Sept. 3. They hadn't been swept in a four-game series at home since July 1996.
Even the home run streak ended, at a club-record 19 games. The night was, indeed, a complete washout.
"We're being unbelievably tested right now," said manager Ray Miller, himself being pushed to the limit.
"I haven't pointed any fingers at anybody, and I won't. You want to point fingers at anybody, point them at me. I'm the one sitting in the chair. I'm going to sleep good and put up with all I have to put up with. That's part of the job. But I'm not down. I feel that I'm putting the right people in the right places. It's just not getting done.
"I'll stand behind these guys and support them as long as I'm here, and I plan to be here awhile."
Said Eric Davis: "We're getting beat. That's the bottom line. It's no one particular thing. The teams we're playing are playing better than us."
Asked if going to New York gives his club a chance to make a statement, Davis said, "What kind of statement are we going to make? What are we going to say? We've got to play baseball. We need wins. It doesn't make a difference who we play."
Left-hander Tony Saunders, who pitched for two area high schools and has a home in Severn, blanked the Orioles until the fifth inning, when they scored twice and loaded the bases with two out. Manager Larry Rothschild brought in Albie Lopez, who got Davis to pop up to preserve a 5-2 lead.
Brady Anderson had driven in the first run with double down the right-field line, and a slow bouncer to short from Jeffrey Hammonds scored another. Roberto Alomar walked and Saunders grazed Rafael Palmeiro with a 3-2 pitch. In need of a game-turning blow, the Orioles got nothing more.
That had been the pattern in the series. The Orioles batted .187 (24-for-128) against the Devil Rays and .231 (46-for-199) during the six-game homestand. A lack of speed continues to frustrate Miller.
The Orioles did break form in the seventh, getting an RBI single from Alomar with two outs after Anderson had singled, stolen second and advanced on a throwing error by catcher John Flaherty. Hammonds bounced to third, his bat shattering as Anderson stayed put, but Alomar lined a pitch into right field, the 15th time he's hit safely in 17 games.
Momentum is fickle, and it never seems to stay with the Orioles for long. Flaherty singled off reliever Bobby Munoz leading off the next inning, was sacrificed to second and scored on a double by Kevin Stocker into left-center field.
"We can't have the kind of innings they had tonight," Miller said. "We don't have people who can inside-out a pitch and dribble it across the field and beat somebody there. We don't have that kind of speed, and they do. New York does, too. We can't manufacture runs. The only way we can is to get a couple people on and hit one over the fence."
The Devil Rays (20-22) enjoyed their first road sweep and first sweep of more than two games. In every game this series, they made the Orioles do the chasing.
They led 1-0 in the first inning on a walk to Quinton McCracken, a stolen base and a two-out single by Fred McGriff, the ball coming within inches of starter Doug Drabek as it whistled past a glove put up in self defense. The hit made McGriff 5-for-9 with five RBIs after an 0-for-28 slump.
Drabek gave up another run in the third inning on a single and stolen base by No. 9 hitter Randy Winn and a single by McCracken, who was caught in a rundown as Winn scored. Drabek lasted one more inning, long enough for the crowd to grow more irritated.
Coming off one of his better starts Wednesday against Cleveland, Drabek hit two batters and allowed singles to former Oriole Aaron Ledesma, Winn and Dave Martinez, increasing the lead to 5-0. Winn drove in one run with a bases-loaded infield hit behind second base, Alomar making the stop but unable to put much on the throw to first. Martinez then delivered two more with a flare up the middle.
Drabek (3-5), who had two wins and a no-decision in his previous three starts, was pulled after 83 pitches in favor of Arthur Rhodes. Appearing for the first time since replacing the injured Mussina on Thursday and taking the loss, Rhodes turned in three scoreless innings to aid a bullpen still smoldering from Sunday's meltdown.
What he couldn't do was prevent another loss, the first time since July 1996 that the Orioles have dropped five straight at home.
What none of the Orioles could do was keep rock bottom from moving again.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Doug Johns (0-1, 6.17) vs. Yankees' David Cone (5-1, 6.46)
Into the cellar
Last night's loss, the Orioles' fifth straight and sixth in their past seven games, dropped them into a last-place tie with the Blue Jays in the AL East:
Team ........ W-L ..... Pct. ..... GB
New York .... 28-9 .... .757 ..... --
Boston ...... 27-15 ... .643 ..... 3 1/2
Tampa ....... 20-22 ... .476 ..... 10 1/2
Orioles ..... 20-23 ... .465 ..... 11
Toronto ..... 20-23 ... .465 ..... 11
Pub Date: 5/19/98