The Orioles tumbled deeper into what manager Mike Hargrove called "a crack" last night against the Boston Red Sox. In an 11-4 loss before 43,619 at Camden Yards, they again resembled the team that for two weeks has been defined by its deficiencies.
The Orioles aren't pitching well, aren't scoring more than the five runs needed to win within a hyper-offensive environment and aren't making plays that might allow them to minimize their staffs shortcomings. They are also two games below .500 (16-18) for the first time this season.
"We have been unable --not because of lack of ability -- as a team to patch up cracks .... We didn't do it today," said Hargrove.
Trounced by a six-run sixth inning that began with an uncontested fly ball, the Orioles suffered their fourth straight loss and eighth in nine games because another starting pitcher couldn't reach middle innings and another fill-in opposition starter escaped without taking heavy damage.
Given the day experienced by starting pitcher Pat Rapp leading up to last night's opener to a four-game home-stand, Hargrove might have expected a fiasco.
Rapp returned from Toronto to Baltimore on Wednesday to rest for last night's start. But in the latest episode of the team's Mystery Tours Ltd., Rapp was delayed at ticketing, customs and at a security check-point before the plane was late taking off, making it a seven-hour flight.
Rapp and Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield conspired for an operatic pace. Rapp's was especially tedious as he jammed 92 pitches and 11 base runners into 31/3 innings. Rapp threw 41 pitches during the third inning alone.
The gritty Red Sox did plenty right. Center fielder Carl Everett contributed four RBIs and fell a triple shy of the cycle before sustaining a leg injury in the seventh inning. Rheal Cormier, Tim Young and John Wasdin threw 51/3 innings of two-hit relief.
Meanwhile, the Orioles, out-scored 68-43 in their nine-game slide, would love to play to their strength if only they could determine what it is.
Their hope leaving spring training was that the rotation could mask deficiencies within the bull-pen. But entering last night, the much-maligned bullpen (5.67 ERA) had actually outperformed the starters (5.76). Since April 29, the day Mike Mussina slogged to his 138-pitch complete-game win, Hargrove's rotation is winless in 11 starts.
The starters reached six innings in 13 of the first 18 games but have done so only seven times in the last 16.
It is too early and the organization too shallow to responsibly talk about changes, said Hargrove. "Who are you going to change? Are you going to send Cal Ripken out?" he said. "If there was somebody doing better than what we have in place we might contemplate that. It's the same team that played well the first 21/2, three weeks of the season. It'll play well again.
"The last thing we can do right now is give excuses and start panicking."
Facing the team for whom he worked 37 times last season, Rapp was at his high-pitch worst.
"I guess there's a tendency to try to dial it up against a team you used to pitch for," Rapp said.
The Red Sox needed only their first three hitters to load the bases and bring pitching coach Sammy Ellis to the mound. Their cleanup hitter, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, gave the Sox a 1-0 lead on a ground ball but would leave the game with a strained hamstring.
Everett began a huge night by singling home Trot Nixon for a 2-0 lead and the first of his three hits.
Like Rapp, Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield brought his pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan, out of the dugout after three hitters. Brady Anderson pulled the Orioles within a run on the 38th leadoff home run of his career. Consecutive walks brought out Kerrigan but Albert Belle's first-pitch double play allowed Wakefield an escape route. The knuckleballer Wakefield started after making 15 pitches Wednesday night in relief.
Hargrove's patience with Rapp was finally exhausted in the fourth inning after three of the first four Red Sox singled to make it 4-1.
The Orioles' three-run fourth inning constructed around Ripken's leadoff home run and Anderson's two-run double was enough to chase Wakefield and rescue Rapp from the decision. However, the Orioles' offense stopped there. They have led for a total of one, inning in their last four losses.
The loss landed on Jose Mercedes (2-2), who pitched poorly, but was also let down by his defense early in Boston's six-run sixth.
Nixon led off with a towering fly ball to right field. Belle retreated to the fringes of the warning track then, anticipating a rebound high off the scoreboard, stepped back for the rebound. However, the ball instead hit lower off the fence for a double. What might have been a routine inning quickly spun out of control.
"It was a small crack and before we had time to breathe -- boom the roof had fallen in," Hargrove said.
A groundout advanced Nixon. With the infield drawn, Andy Sheets jammed an RBI single through shortstop. Three makeable plays left the Orioles with one out. Everett then reappeared to crush a 429-foot home run onto Eutaw Street for a 7-4 lead.
The rally continued until the Red Sox had 12 total bases against Mercedes and B. J. Ryan and led 10-4.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090AM)
Starters: Red Sox's Pedro Martinez (5-1,1.22) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (2-1, 5.08)