ARLINGTON, Texas - For the Orioles, .500 wasn't just fleeting. Reaching that mark did nothing but send them into their second-worst tailspin of the season.
On Friday, the Orioles won their fourth straight game and reached the break-even mark for the first time in more than three months. Instead of propelling them forward, the achievement has had the opposite effect.
The Orioles lost their fifth straight game last night, as Chan Ho Park pitched seven strong innings, leading the Texas Rangers to a 5-3 victory at The Ballpark in Arlington.
The losing streak is the Orioles' longest since they lost six consecutive games after defeating the New York Yankees on Opening Day.
"When you get in a streak like this, your frustration levels rise," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "But you've got to understand that's part of the game. I thought we played better tonight than we have the past four or five days. And that was encouraging."
John Stephens (1-3) took the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits over six innings.
The rookie from Australia continues to show poise after posting a 23.40 ERA in his first five major-league innings, but the Rangers won this one with a two-run homer by Todd Hollandsworth and a bases-empty shot by Ivan Rodriguez.
"That's definitely behind me now," Stephens said of his once-bloated ERA. "I've just got to make better pitches in certain situations."
Stephens did what so many of the Orioles' starters have failed to do during the past three weeks: get a lead to the bullpen after six innings. The Orioles' biggest strength is their vaunted bullpen, but in their recent slide, they have been unable to use it the way it was designed.
Last night marked the 16th time in their past 18 games that they have failed to gain a lead after the sixth. When leading going into the seventh, the Orioles are 45-7. When trailing or behind after six, they are 18-61.
"That's been the key to our success all year long," Hargrove said. "[Lately] we just haven't been able to do that."
The Orioles have managed just 13 runs during this five-game skid, and they have blown an early lead each time. They came into this series figuring to score runs, as none of the Rangers' scheduled starting pitchers had an ERA lower than 6.89.
That mark belonged to Park, who signed a five-year, $65 million deal this past offseason and has had few games where he looked like he was worth the price. But Park (6-6) held the Orioles to two runs on seven hits over seven innings, winning consecutive starts for his first time as a Ranger.
"You've got to give credit to them," Hargrove said. "They made the plays, but I thought we swung the bats well tonight."
Jerry Hairston came within a home run of hitting for the cycle after tripling in the first inning, doubling in the fifth and singling in the seventh. But he flied to left field in the ninth.
On a listless night, things turned interesting for a few brief seconds after that. Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez failed to field a sharp grounder by Chris Richard, ending his 52-game errorless streak. Tony Batista, who leads the Orioles with 26 home runs, hit a towering fly ball, but left fielder Hollandsworth caught it on the warning track.
The moment was fleeting, much like the Orioles' last visit to .500.
After leaving 12 men on base in Tuesday night's loss, the Orioles stranded 10 more last night.
The Orioles' frustrations seemed to reach a peak in the eighth, when they put runners on second and third with no outs and came away with only one run, leaving Texas with a 4-3 lead.
After Jeff Conine's double put runners on second and third, Chris Singleton did his job, grounding to second base, scoring Jay Gibbons and allowing Conine to reach third.
Then Geronimo Gil lined out to second base for a huge second out. Gil, who had been robbed of a hit in the sixth inning by third baseman Herbert Perry, stared toward second baseman Michael Young as he walked toward the dugout. Two balls hit right on the screws with nothing to show for them.
Rangers manager Jerry Narron summoned closer Francisco Cordero to face pinch hitter Luis Lopez, and with a 3-2 count, Cordero blew a 97-mph fastball by Lopez to end the inning with Conine standing on third.
The Rangers added an insurance run off reliever Willis Roberts in their half of the eighth, and Cordero pitched the ninth for his sixth save.