The Orioles trudged back to the clubhouse last night having officially hit rock bottom. It wasnt just another sweep in a season that has featured plenty of them.
It was a three-game sweep at Camden Yards by the Washington Nationals, the team that was designated the Orioles geographic rivals by Major League Baseball. The team that was predicted by many to threaten the record for most losses in a season. The team that has a third of the Orioles payroll and features a pitching staff mostly picked off the scrapheap. The team that now has the same record as the reeling Orioles.
The Nationals didnt do much against Orioles hard-luck starter Jeremy Guthrie, but Ryan Zimmerman broke an eighth-inning tie with a ?single off Chad Bradford (0-3) and the visitors went on to beat the Orioles, 3-1, before an announced 20,770 last night at Camden Yards. It was the Orioles ?fifth straight loss and their ?10th in the past ?12 games. The frustration was evident as manager Sam Perlozzo and center fielder Jay Payton were thrown out in the eighth inning.
With men on first and second and nobody out, Payton struck out trying to bunt with two strikes. Payton wasnt disputing the third strike, but was angry that ?first base umpire Ed Montague had ruled that he had offered on Jon Rauchs first pitch of the at-bat.
When he returned to the bench, he yelled at Montague from the top step of the dugout and was quickly ejected. Perlozzo then burst out of the dugout and he was ejected for the second time within a week.
Im not getting ejected because Im frustrated, Perlozzo said. Ive put up with it up to a week or so ago, and I thought I had been pretty patient. The games arent easy to lose, but frustration has nothing to do with my ejection.
After Paytons strikeout, Jay Gibbons ?flied out and Kevin Millar walked to ?load the bases. Rauch ?struck out Paul Bako, who continued the Orioles futility with men on base. The Orioles left 11 runners on and managed only one run despite having a man on second base and no outs four times.
The Orioles scored their only run in the ?sixth inning as Gibbons sacrifice fly, his first RBI in exactly a month, scored ?Aubrey Huff to tie the game at 1. That was the only run that Nationals starter Jason Simontacchi (4-4), who entered the night with a 5.44 ERA, would give up.
The one run wasnt enough for Guthrie to get a victory that he again deserved. Guthrie pitched seven innings, allowing just one earned run on ?four hits and two walks, while striking out five. It was his third straight no-decision and his sixth in the past seven games. In every one of those seven starts, Guthrie has gone at least seven innings and allowed three runs or less. In four of those starts, he has allowed one run or less.
Perlozzo said the choice to exit the game was made by Guthrie. As soon as he walked in [after the seventh inning], he said he was done. His velocity had gone down a little bit that inning. I was a little surprised that he was done, but evidently he maxed out there.
Said Guthrie: He asked me how I was doing and I said I was gassed.
Todays probably the first time in all my starts where I labored the last couple innings. I was really tired, and I told him straight up I was really tired and gassed.
With any run support, Guthrie would be looking at a potential berth on the American League All-Star team and would likely be the front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year. But instead, he is 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA. As a starter, he is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA and six no-decisions.
Losing nine of their past 11 games entering last night, with many of the defeats coming in close fashion, certainly has affected morale in the Orioles clubhouse. Players continue to believe that enough talent is in place for them to be a winning team, or at least be better than the team that now is eight games under .500.
Its been frustrating, this whole stretch weve been on, Millar said. Weve lost a lot of one-run games. We havent gotten a big hit in the right situation.
But we cant feel sorry for ourselves. Nobodys going to feel sorry for us. Youve got to come out here and keep working hard, keep taking extra BP, keep taking your ground balls, pitchers are going to keep working hard in the bullpen. This team will come around. You cant sit back and wait for the breaks. Weve got to go out there and make our own breaks.
Guthrie has been the symbol for hard luck this season.
Among AL rookie pitches, Guthrie ranked first in opponents average (.215), second in ERA, second in innings pitched (662/3) and third in strikeouts (42). He has posted a quality start in all seven outings since the beginning of May, but he has only two wins during that time. Thats because during that time, the Orioles have scored a total of 31 runs, blown three saves and gone to extra innings three times in his starts.
Early last night, the Orioles again missed numerous opportunities to give Guthrie a lead. They put two men on in the first on consecutive singles by Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada, but Huff flied out to end the inning.
They had the bases loaded and just one out in the second as Payton walked, Millar doubledand Bako drew a one-out walk. However, Brian Roberts grounded into a double play.
In the third, the Orioles had men on first and second with no outs. However, Simontacchi picked off Melvin Mora at second base and Tejada bounced into an inning-ending double play. They had two men on again in the fourth, but Simontacchi again escaped trouble by getting Bako to ground out.
It wasnt all smooth sailing for Guthrie either, though he also was able to turn in four scoreless innings.