The Orioles tumbled deeper into what is euphemistically called a down cycle last night against the Boston Red Sox. In an 11-4 loss be-fore 43,619 at Camden Yards, they again resembled the team that for two weeks has been defined by its deficiencies.
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 starter escaped without taking heavy damage.
Right now, the Orioles aren't pitching well, aren't scoring more than the five runs needed to win within an offensive environment and aren't making plays that might allow them to minimize their staff's shortcomings. They are also two games below .500 (16-18) for the first time this season as coming home made little difference after a 1-5 road trip.
The second-place Red Sox did all of the above as center fielder Carl Everett contributed four RBIs and fell a triple shy of the cycle, and Rheal Cormier, Tim Young and John Wasdin threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit relief. Meanwhile, the Orioles, out-scored 68-43 in their nine-game meltdown, would love to play to their strength if only they could determine what it is.
Orioles starter Pat Rapp departed after four runs, seven hits and 3 1/3 innings, continuing a disturbing trend.
The Orioles' hope leaving spring training was that the rotation could mask deficiencies within the bullpen. 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, Mike Hargrove's rotation is winless in 11 starts.
A backsliding May has over-whelmed a promising April. The starters reached six innings in 13 of the first 18 games but have done so only seven times in the last 16.
Rapp, who helped hold things together in the season's first three weeks, now represents what has gone awry in the last 2 1/2. Since pushing his record to 3-0 in Chicago April 25, Rapp has lost three consecutive starts in which he has lasted a total of 16 2/3 innings and allowed 12 earned runs.
Facing the team for whom he worked 37 times last season, Rapp was at his high-pitch worst, jamming 92 pitches into 3 1/3 innings. Rapp needed 41 pitches to clear a one-run fourth inning and ran the count full to six of the first 17 hitters he faced.
There was never going to be anything easy about this start. The Red Sox needed only their first three hitters to load the bases and bring pitching coach Sammy Ellis to the mound. Their fourth hitter, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, gave the Sox a 1-0 lead on a ground ball but would leave the game following the inning because of a strained left hamstring.
Center fielder Carl Everett began a huge night by singling home Trot Nixon for a 2-0 lead.
For the second consecutive game, the Orioles faced a make-shift starter and for the second consecutive night couldn't send him away with a loss.
Like Rapp, 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.
Rapp barely got out of a two-walk, three-strikeout third inning. He forced home one run with a bases-loaded walk to Mike Stanley before striking out Jason Varitek looking on a full count.
Hargrove's patience was finally exhausted in the fourth inning after three of the first four hitters singled to push the Red Sox lead to 4-1. Rapp's shortest outing of the season continued a skid that has seen Orioles starters go a combined 17 innings in the last four games.
A three-run fourth inning built around Cal Ripken's leadoff home run and Anderson's two-run double was enough to chase the dull Wakefield and rescue Rapp from the decision. But the Orioles' offense stopped there. They have now led for a total one inning in their last four losses.
Instead of Rapp, the decision landed on Jose Mercedes (2-2), who pitched poorly but was also abandoned by his defense early in the Red Sox's six-run sixth inning.
The Orioles' defense entered last night's game with 21 errors in 33 games, a decent ratio responsible for the league's fifth-best fielding percentage. But the Orioles are just as easily defined by the plays they don't make as the errors they avoid. Another example occurred when Nixon led off the sixth 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 scraped the bottom of the fence for a double that might have been the first out.
What otherwise might have been a routine inning quickly spun out of control. 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.