Maybe Mike Hargrove saw it coming. Or perhaps he's just learning to hope for the best while bracing for the worst. Either way, the Orioles' manager was prophetic this weekend when he least wanted the gift.
Asked after Saturday's loss if the Orioles had reached their low point this season, Hargrove said, "I don't know. We haven't played tomorrow yet."
They touched new ground yesterday. The Orioles wasted a quality start from Mike Mussina, which turned out to be the least of their sins. A breakdown in fundamentals and relief pitching formed an ugly union in the eighth inning, when the Boston Red Sox scored seven times to produce a 10-1 victory at Camden Yards and complete a four-game sweep.
The Red Sox, who moved into first place in the American League East, hadn't swept the Orioles in a four-game series in Baltimore since June 1977. The Orioles have lost eight in a row to Boston dating to last year, including the last seven at Camden Yards.
There are more disturbing streaks than that to contend with as the Orioles approach today's down time before heading to Anaheim. They've lost seven straight, including six in a row at home after winning nine of their first 10 here. They've dropped 12 of their last 13 games and are 5-16 since April 22, when they were a season-high six games over .500.
"The thing we have to do, and I had a meeting yesterday and told them, is trust our abilities and stay focused on what we're trying to do and this thing will turn around and we'll start catching breaks here and there," said Hargrove, whose team was outscored 35-6 in the series. "We'll get things to happen for us that are not happening right now. We've just got to be faithful to what we're doing and how we're doing it and we'll be all right. We still have good players on this team."
They're just not coming through for Hargrove when he needs it.
Starting at second base yesterday for Delino DeShields, who is bothered by a sore hip, Mark Lewis opened the gates to Boston's breakout inning when he failed to come up with a sharp grounder from No. 9 hitter Donnie Sadler with the bases loaded and two outs. The ball scooted under his glove as he leaned to his left, and a charging Albert Belle in right field had to retreat and chase it down as three runs scored. Sadler was credited with a double.
Jose Offerman followed with an RBI single and later scored on a two-run triple by Trot Nixon. If Lewis makes the play, only one run crosses the plate that inning."That two-strike ground ball, I thought, should have been made," Hargrove said.
Then again, if left-hander B.J. Ryan doesn't walk the bases loaded to begin the eighth, the game might not have come to Lewis. Brought in to face three left-handed batters, Ryan was removed for Jose Mercedes with a 2-0 count on Mike Stanley. Mercedes completed the walk, which forced in Nixon for a 4-1 lead.
Ryan has issued 17 walks in 16 1/3 innings, but Hargrove said, "I've never seen B.J. that wild on the mound." He described Ryan's 17-pitch adventure as "the turning point in the game."
Mussina (1-5) extended the worst start of his career, though he pitched much better than his two previous outings when he surrendered 11 earned runs and 20 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He gave up two more home runs, pushing his total to 14, the most in the American League. The first, by Darren Lewis in the first inning, barely eluded B.J. Surhoff's reach in left field. The other, by Brian Daubach leading off the sixth, would have been an out in some ballparks.
Mussina allowed one other run, on a ground single by Offerman in the fifth after Sadler blooped a double into right-center field. He threw 111 pitches before leaving after seven innings."I can't complain about seven innings and three runs. If I go seven and give us a chance, I'm doing the best I can," Mussina said."I wish it would come out better and I wish we'd get some better breaks. I wish for a lot of stuff."
The Orioles could have bailed him out in the fifth inning when they extended Red Sox starter Brian Rose to 33 pitches and hastened his exit. But a lack of execution at the bottom of the order and lack of production from the middle doomed them again.
Charles Johnson drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a single by Ryan Minor, who was making his first start since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester on May 3. Instructed to move the runners, Lewis showed bunt early and popped up in front of the mound.
The rally didn't die there, but it lost enough steam to prevent the Orioles from tying the game or moving ahead.
Brady Anderson singled to load the bases, with Johnson being held at third an inning after Harold Baines was easily thrown out at home on a double by Jeff Conine. Shortstop Mike Bordick drew a five-pitch walk to force in a run, his 33rd RBI of the season, to reduce Boston's lead to 2-1. The margin stayed there, however, when Surhoff flied to shallow center and Belle flied to right.
Surhoff's failed at-bat prolonged a slump that has reached disturbing proportions. Elevated to third in the order after batting sixth on Saturday, he went 0-for-4 and is 11-for-75 in his last 20 games.
Typical of the hard luck that follows a struggling player, Surhoff just missed an extra-base hit in the fifth when his line drive landed inches outside the right-field line. He fouled off a couple of tough two-strike pitches before flying out.
Belle ran the count full and fouled back two pitches before being retired. His hitting streak ended at nine games. He's driven in four runs over that period.
Baines, again nestled in the fifth slot, is 10-for-27 in his last 10 games but doesn't have an RBI since May7.
Hoping rest will cure some of his club's ills, Hargrove said, "This will be a good time for an off day. It would have been a good time for an off day the last four days."