OAKLAND, Calif. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- The crucial seventh-inning at-bat ended with mild-mannered Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts yelling at plate umpire Mike Winters, saying repeatedly, "That's not even close."
Roberts eventually gave up the argument and trudged to the visiting dugout, convinced he should have been on first base with the bases loaded, one out and the Orioles just one hit off a tiring Dan Haren away from tying the game or taking the lead.
There was no telling how the Orioles' 4-3 loss last night to the Oakland Athletics before an announced 30,828 at McAfee Coliseum would have played out had the borderline call gone in the other direction.
Corey Patterson followed the strikeout with an RBI single off Haren, knocking the ace out of the game. It cut the Orioles' deficit to one run instead of tying the game.
But who knows whether Haren would have even stayed in the game to face Patterson if he had walked Roberts? The point was essentially moot with Roberts, who rarely argues balls and strikes.
"I didn't think it was a strike," Roberts said matter-of-factly.
Asked if he saw the replay, which appeared to show that he was punched out on a 3-2 fastball that was well below his knees, Roberts said: "I don't really need to see the replay. I've seen enough pitches in my lifetime."
With the number of missed opportunities they had last night against Haren, the Orioles, who got a shaky start from Steve Trachsel in his return from the disabled list, had nobody to blame but themselves. Later that inning, A's reliever Santiago Casilla got Nick Markakis to ground out, ending the inning and leaving the potential tying run at second base.
The Orioles (43-53) again left the tying run at second base in the ninth inning as A's acting closer Alan Embree got Patterson to pop out to third baseman Eric Chavez with pinch runner Brandon Fahey on second base.
All told, the Orioles left eight runners on base and were just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. After Kevin Millar's two-run double off Haren in the first inning, the Orioles had a man on second base in five of the final eight innings, but drove him in only once. Haren, the American League starter in this month's All-Star Game and the league's ERA leader, improved to 11-3, with three of those wins coming over the Orioles.
"We had to get a two-run RBI hit and maybe open the game up a little bit, but every time we had an opportunity, we hit the ball hard and right at someone," interim manager Dave Trembley said. "That's the way it goes."
The Orioles will send Jeremy Guthrie to the mound today, looking to win the series and salvage a 3-3 road trip. Their three losses on the trip have come by a total of four runs.
Last night, the Orioles battled back after Trachsel exited. In his first start since June 29 after a strained gluteus sent him to the DL, the veteran right-hander gave up four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, a span during which he allowed 12 base runners. The big blow was delivered by former Oriole Jack Cust, whose bases-empty homer in the fifth proved to be the game-winner.
Trachsel (5-7) has given up four earned runs or more in five straight starts. He said he was pleased with the way he felt, but he acknowledged that he was disappointed that Trembley lifted him from the game with a man on second and one out in the sixth. When Trembley came to remove Trachsel, the pitcher handed the manager the ball and looked away.
"Eighty-five pitches," Trachsel said of his pitch count. "I had plenty left. If I'm tired after 85 pitches, something is wrong."
Trachsel made one rehabilitation start last Saturday for Single-A Frederick, working seven innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits and a walk, while striking out four. He threw 95 pitches, convincing the Orioles he was ready for last night's start.
About a week and a half before the trade deadline, it is well known that Trachsel is available as the Orioles are prepared to get longer looks at rookies Garrett Olson and Brian Burres in the rotation.
While interest in Trachsel isn't high, that could change in a pitching-thin trade market with a couple of decent performances. The Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and New York Mets were among the teams that had scouts at last night's game.
The Mariners are looking for starting pitching, but Trachsel wouldn't appear to be an upgrade over Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver, the pair that constitutes the back end of Seattle's rotation. The Mets are looking at Orioles outfielder Jay Payton, not Trachsel, who pitched for them from 2001 to 2006.
Either way, Trachsel, though he did make some key pitches to get out of jams, didn't give an impressive performance.
"They manufactured three runs and they got a solo home run," Trachsel said. "I felt I pitched better than the numbers."