NEW YORK - Maybe it's fatigue. Maybe it's a loss of confidence. Maybe it's a combination of both.
As the losses mount and the offensive struggles continue, the Orioles are running out of ways to explain their recent funk.
Yesterday afternoon, the New York Yankees made three errors and misplayed another ball into a double. Final score: Yankees 5, Orioles 2.
Then last night, in Game 2 of the doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, New York pretty much fielded its B squad. Final score: Yankees 3, Orioles 1.
The Orioles have now lost 16 of their past 17 games, and six in a row. After being in sole possession of third place in the American League East since April 27, they now find themselves in a third-place tie with the Toronto Blue Jays.
It's enough to make the players sick - figuratively and literally. Jason Johnson has complained of flu-like symptoms in recent days. Jerry Hairston and Pat Hentgen are both ill and might have caught the same bug.
But nothing is perplexing this team more than the offense. During this 17-game stretch of futility, the Orioles are batting .203 as a team and averaging 2.65 runs a game.
"I'm at a little bit of a loss," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "It would be simple to say it's fatigue. When you've got a whole bunch of guys struggling, that just feeds on itself."
The Orioles have tried taking early batting practice and they've tried taking regular batting practice. Yesterday, they tried taking none. They had Monday off, but with the doubleheader starting with an afternoon game, Crowley held optional BP in the indoor cage.
Still, the Yankees' starting pitchers, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Weaver, combined to hold the Orioles to nine hits in 15 1/3 innings.
"Sometimes if you don't do anything - go out and go cold turkey - it works out," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It didn't today, but we continue to work on it. The season's not over. We certainly haven't given up on it."
That group has combined to hit 152 home runs this season, but their teammates did just fine without them, spoiling a complete-game effort by Orioles starter Sidney Ponson.
Ponson (7-6) allowed three runs - two earned - on six hits over eight innings.
Raul Mondesi hit a bases-empty home run with one out in the fourth inning to give New York a 2-1 lead, and Weaver (9-11) held the Orioles to one run on four hits in eight innings as the Yankees won their seventh game in their past eight.
"We've gotten very few breaks," Hargrove said, "and we've made very few breaks of our own. This has certainly lasted longer than most normal periods like this."
In Game 1, the Orioles flailed away against Pettitte (10-5), getting one run on five hits in his 7 1/3 innings. Ramiro Mendoza recorded four outs, and Mike Stanton got the final out for his fourth save.
Johnson (4-13) took another hard-luck loss after allowing two runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. With Johnson cruising, the Orioles took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, and then the Yankees methodically came back to crush their spirits.
Yankees rookie Juan Rivera, who had three hits and three RBIs in the doubleheader, tied the score with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and put New York in the lead with a two-out, run-scoring single off Willis Roberts in the seventh.
"He has a good approach to hitting for a youngster," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He had three RBIs and every one was to right field. That's really healthy to me."
The Orioles split their first 12 meetings with the Yankees. This time, they practically felt doomed.
"Before, we knew we could come back from any deficit we were in and put on a good push at the end," said Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine. "Right now we're struggling, so we don't have that same feeling.
"I don't think we're in there just expecting to lose, but when you play as poorly as we have, your confidence wanes a little bit, and we need something to get us back on track."
When the Oakland Athletics rattled off 20 consecutive victories recently, players talked about the streak taking on a life of its own. The same thing seems to have happened to the Orioles, in reverse.
In the seventh inning of Game 1, Marty Cordova hit a leadoff single, and with one out, Hargrove signaled for the hit-and-run. Cordova got such a bad jump against Pettitte, a left-hander with an excellent move, Mike Bordick didn't even know he was running and took the pitch for a strike.
The Yankees caught Cordova in a rundown. Bordick flied to center field. Inning over.
"When you scuffle to score runs," Hargrove said, "it stands out like a sore thumb."
Opponent:New York Yankees
Site:Yankee Stadium, New York
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' John Stephens (1-4, 6.15) vs. Yankees' Orlando Hernandez (8-4, 3.52)