Ace can't avert sweep

The Baltimore Sun

Minnesota Twins reliever Carmen Cali threw one pitch yesterday and requested time so a divot in the mound could be repaired. All it took was a little dirt, a shovel and a few extra minutes.

If only the Orioles could be repaired so easily.

They're sinking into an invisible hole, and manager Dave Trembley can't seem to rescue them. The lineup is changed, and so are relievers' roles. Starters are rested or rushed to the majors. Concessions are made for the heat, or pre-game drills are implemented to sharpen fundamentals.

None of it has mattered.

The Twins completed a four-game sweep with an 11-3 rout yesterday, handing Erik Bedard his first defeat since June 10 before an announced 30,876 at sun-baked Camden Yards. The Twins also completed a season sweep of the Orioles, finishing 7-0 against them. The only other team Minnesota had swept over a season was Tampa Bay, in 2003 and 2005.

The Orioles' losing streak has reached six games. The challenge now is to avoid reaching the breaking point.

"You just keep fighting," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "We're not going to quit. This is a different group of guys. We're just going through a stretch. These times make you tougher as ballplayers. It's easy to compete when things are going your way. We're just losing ballgames. People are scoring a lot of runs off us, but we'll find a way to get back in this thing."

The Orioles are 58-71 overall and 29-31 under Trembley. They're 1-6 on the current homestand, which is interrupted by today's open date, and have lost eight of their past 10 games.

"The game is a game of momentum," Trembley said, "and there's two sides to the game."

The trick is getting back on the right side of it.

The Orioles have been outscored, 70-20, in their past six games and have allowed 41 runs after the sixth inning during this homestand. The starters are failing, the bullpen is failing and the offense can't pick up the slack.

"When things are going well for you, everything looks tremendous. When things aren't, it's easy to look at things from a negative standpoint. I honestly believe it's the nature of the game," Trembley said.

"It would be a whole different story if you didn't have people who cared, if you didn't have people that were prepared to play, if you didn't have people that were doing the very best they possibly could all the time. Then you could point fingers and get negative and get upset and say, 'Hey, there's a lot of things that could be corrected.' I don't see it that way. I see it like we're just not playing well enough at this point and we're getting beat."

Bedard (13-5) struck out the second batter he faced, Jason Bartlett, to break Mike Mussina's single-season Orioles strikeout record of 218. But Bedard allowed six runs in six innings and got the loss. He had won nine straight decisions before yesterday and hadn't lost in 13 starts.

With Bedard unable to consistently locate his curveball, the Twins kept laying off it and drew five walks. Bedard's three strikeouts matched his lowest total of the season, which came on Opening Night against the Twins, when he also allowed six runs.

"They're a good hitting team," he said. "They go with the pitch. If it's outside, they go the other way. And they're real patient. I just tried to battle, throw strikes and get them out. It didn't happen."

The Twins scored twice in the first inning, aided by a throwing error by catcher Paul Bako. Jason Bartlett added a two-run triple in the second, and Bedard already had given up his most runs since July 2. Before that game, he hadn't surrendered more than three runs since April.

The Orioles trailed 4-3 in the fifth when Kevin Millar came within inches of a game-tying home run against Twins starter Scott Baker. Center fielder Torii Hunter made a leaping catch at the fence, and Minnesota scored twice in the sixth off Bedard and twice in the seventh off Paul Shuey.

"Yeah, it was barely going over the wall," said Millar, whose club-record streak of reaching base ended at 52 games. "Another foot and a half, and I've got a homer. But it was a great run while it lasted. It was a blast, but good things come to an end."

What about their present run of futility, which includes being swept by a team that was .500 when it arrived here?

"We fought the whole game," Millar said. "We came back. We were down 4-0. Everybody was chattering and fighting. You're not going to find guys quit on this team while I'm here. There's a great deal of professionalism. We'll be all right. We've just got to find a way to get back on a winning streak."

Trembley thought he had the solution yesterday with his ace on the mound and more adjustments made to his lineup, including Nick Markakis batting fourth. But the repairs didn't hold up. And it'll take more than a shovel and some dirt to keep this team from being buried.

"Didn't pitch good enough. Didn't hit well enough. Didn't play well enough. Didn't coach well enough. Didn't manage well enough," Trembley said. "We put ourselves in a position to get exactly what happened."

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