A cross-country flight didn't return the Orioles to their home ballpark yesterday until 6 a.m. Rarely have they been so relieved to touch down.
The road was treacherous for them, contributing six losses to a streak that has reached nine games. Yesterday provided their first smooth landing in more than a week.
The Orioles begin a six-game homestand tonight against the Texas Rangers, who routed them last week in Arlington. They haven't lost 10 in a row since last September, but after being outscored 64-24 during a stretch that began with the Toronto Blue Jays' doubleheader sweep at Camden Yards, they wonder whether the turbulence can get any worse.
"You've got to ride these things out," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Feeling sorry for yourself and screaming and yelling, that doesn't do any good. You've got to stay at it, stay focused, continue to play your game. You have to stay with what you believe in."
The Orioles firmly believe they can escape this mess, that the season's final month will bring more good than bad. They hadn't lost more than six straight this year, and that streak dated to early April. Perhaps they've just hit a wall - with enough collective force, they hope, to burst through it tonight.
"It will be good to get home for a number of reasons," Hargrove said. "A change of scenery can't hurt."
Enough pain has been inflicted. In the past week, they've been swept by a last-place team, and an Anaheim Angels team that moved 28 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history. And those two opponents come to Camden Yards before the Orioles head to New York and Boston.
While understanding the danger of putting more pressure on themselves, the Orioles also sense the urgency in ending their streak before going to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
"Grover tells us not to try too hard," Jay Gibbons said, "because it seems like the harder you try, the worse everything goes. I know it's that way with hitting and fielding. We've just got to go out there and relax. We've played well all year except for the last week. Hopefully, we can turn it around."
"We've just got to win that one game," Jerry Hairston said. "With a team like this, everybody wants to pick each other up, and maybe we press a little bit. This is really disappointing, but we've got a month left and we don't give up. We'll continue to play hard, and hopefully the tide will turn."
It has carried them in the wrong direction since Gary Matthews went on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right wrist. Once salivating over a lineup bolstered by the returns of Jeff Conine, Chris Richard and Mike Bordick, the Orioles have been left dry.
"We cannot catch a break," Hairston said. "Every time we get healthy and have a full team, we lose a big guy. Gary Matthews has probably been our best player, especially the past two or three months. Obviously, we miss him. But at the same time, we've got to forget about it. We're a team, and we've got to pick each other up."
Hargrove disputed the notion that there's a correlation between Matthews' absence and the string of defeats.
"There's a correlation between the other team scoring more runs than we do," he said.
The Orioles have led in seven of the nine games, but they've scored only eight runs after the fifth inning. Anaheim tacked on five Sunday in the eighth inning alone.
The bullpen has been a strength this year, but only once during the streak has a reliever pitched with a lead. Rick Bauer did the honors in Texas, and he gave up a decisive home run to Ivan Rodriguez.
"Our offense hasn't been producing, and the other guys are coming out swinging and taking advantage of our mistakes," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "We haven't been through a stretch like this. It's been a couple games, and then we usually bounce back."
Starters leave early, runners are stranded on base, key plays aren't made in the field. It's never just one element. And it's never easy to correct.
"Every little glitch and every little error you make, it's just magnified," Hargrove said.
"You've got to do what you can to power through something like this. There's no special trick or special medicine. You come out every day and play as well and as hard as you can, and eventually they go by the boards."
After a brief pause, Hargrove added, "It's been a long time since I've been in one this long."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Aaron Myette (2-4, 8.93) vs. Orioles' John Stephens (1-3, 6.00)