For the past three days, the Orioles have gotten to see how the other half lives.
Quality starts. Timely hitting. Superb defense. Speed in the outfield and on the base paths.
For three days, the Orioles responded only by tumbling further below .500. They're still looking for their first win in the second half. They're still searching for answers.
Given a 1-0 lead yesterday in the third inning, Scott Erickson committed the same sin as other Orioles pitchers this season - he immediately gave it back. The Atlanta Braves scored four times in the fourth inning and completed their interleague sweep with a 7-3 victory before 49,013, the largest regular-season crowd ever at Camden Yards.
The loss was the fourth in five games for the Orioles (38-51), who could move a season-worst 14 below .500 if beaten today by the Florida Marlins.
The Orioles mishandled 1-0 leads in all three games of this series, each time in the fourth inning. Once bullies on their home turf, they've lost four in a row here and slipped to 23-16.
The Orioles gained a healthy player yesterday when Double-A infielder Ivanon Coffie was brought up to replace Ryan Minor, who finally went on the disabled list. But manager Mike Hargrove again ended up short-handed when Brady Anderson was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a called third strike.
Anderson extended his arms to protest another pitch from left-hander Tom Glavine that he believed was outside, and plate umpire Paul Emmel quickly tossed him. Infuriated, Anderson threw his bat and helmet while shouting at Emmel, once pointing a finger in his face. Hargrove stepped in and tried to steer away his player before contact was made.
It was the fourth ejection for the Orioles this season, and the first for Anderson. It seemed an appropriate send-off to a series that had to frustrate the team.
"If he makes a bad call, he makes a bad call. That's fine. The ball's clearly outside. The last two pitches were outside. But then he just made it worse by throwing me out of the game in what would have been a very normal conversation that wouldn't have escalated into anything," Anderson said.
"I asked a perfectly legitimate question in a perfectly normal way, and he threw me out. I asked him, 'Why did you call that, because I questioned the other one?' I guess he thought that was grounds for dismissal."
Glavine, like Braves rotation mate Greg Maddux, again looked like an artist the way he painted the corners, even if he occasionally went outside the lines.
"I don't think it's anything new with the way Glavine pitches," Hargrove said. "He pitches off the plate, and the umpire today was giving him four or six inches off the plate consistently. It's very tough for a hitter to do anything with pitches that far off the plate, and Brady obviously took as much of it as he could stand."
"I'm not offering that as an excuse. They scored seven runs. Them beating us was not because the umpire had a big zone."
Coffie pinch-ran for Harold Baines with two outs in the ninth, and rookie Luis Matos started in center field. With two transactions in the past month, both involving Bowie, the Orioles have undergone a minor face-lift that's produced a slightly more youthful look. They've also gained speed. For now, it's the closest they can get to imitating the other half.
Though they committed two errors yesterday, the Braves were superior defensively the entire series. Shortstop Walt Weiss covered almost as much ground as the tarp that kept the infield dry during a pre-game shower. So did center fielder Andruw Jones, who yesterday robbed Delino DeShields of a home run with a leaping catch in the seventh inning. The harder the Orioles hit the ball, the quicker it reached someone's glove.
On the other side, Albert Belle misplayed a first-inning fly ball into a double. Erickson failed to catch a backhand flip from Will Clark while covering first. Mike Bordick committed a throwing error that allowed a run to score. Third baseman Jeff Conine didn't reach a bouncer that initially was ruled an error before being changed to a hit, with a run scoring on the play. And that only accounts for yesterday.
Asked what qualities most separate the two teams, Hargrove said, "The biggest thing, and as far as I'll go with that question, is their team speed. They run well. Their second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, all three outfielders, are all above-average runners. Overall, they have better team speed. But you match that up against any other club in baseball and they're probably better in that regard.
"They've got a good ballclub. Of all the ones we've faced so far, they're the best that I've seen."
The game turned in the fourth inning when Atlanta sent nine batters to the plate against Erickson (4-7). Singles by Wally Joyner and Javy Lopez preceded a four-pitch walk to Reggie Sanders, who was trying to lay down a bunt. Weiss grounded a single into right field to tie the score 1-1, and rookie Rafael Furcal bounced a two-run single into right to give Atlanta the lead.
Erickson got the next two outs before Brian Jordan hit a hard two-hopper to the left of Conine, who couldn't reach the ball as the fourth run scored.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the third off Glavine (10-5), who has won three straight. Anderson singled with two outs and scored on a double by Bordick.
Erickson was charged with seven runs, including a one-out homer by Lopez in the fifth. He allowed 11 hits, walked four and hit a batter in losing for the fourth time in his past five decisions. Continuing an act that's beginning to play more regularly in the Orioles' clubhouse, he left after the game without speaking to reporters.
"For the most part he kept the ball off the big part of the bat. They just hit them in spots where we couldn't make plays on them - in front of outfielders, in between outfielders," Hargrove said. "I thought Scotty threw better than what the score indicated."
Opponent: Florida Marlins
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Marlins' Chuck Smith (0-2, 2.76) vs. Orioles' Pat Rapp (5-6, 5.63)