ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The losses should have been distributed in a variety pack, like miniature boxes of cereal. Shut out one night, blown out the next. And beaten in the final inning on a walk-off double. Unsweetened and unsatisfying.
The Orioles hit their division floor with a thud yesterday, rallying to tie the score before Tampa Bay rookie Evan Longoria lined a double into right-center field in the ninth inning to drive in Carlos Pena and give the Rays a 5-4 victory at Tropicana Field that completed a three-game sweep and left their opponent reeling.
Manager Dave Trembley called upon his closer, George Sherrill, with one out and nobody on base. Sherrill, making his second appearance since May 17, walked Pena and surrendered the decisive hit to Longoria, who collected seven RBIs in the final two games of the series.
"Just bad pitches," Sherrill said. "I was ahead of both of them and didn't end up putting them away, so that's what you get."
Here's what the Orioles (24-25) are left with: a five-game losing streak that has dumped them into last place in the American League East and moved them below .500 for the first time since May 8. And a homestand that begins today against the surging New York Yankees and includes another visit from the Boston Red Sox.
"You've got to do the best you can with every opportunity you have," Trembley said. "And our outlook is, sooner or later, this thing's going to turn in our favor."
It spun out of control against the Rays (30-20), who are 10 games above .500 for the first time in team history and moved into first place ahead of the Red Sox.
"They've got good pitching," reliever Jamie Walker said. "They've got better defense than past years, and they've got the young guys. They stuck with them, and they matured at the big league level. They've got a little confidence now."
They did nothing to boost the Orioles' self-esteem.
Trembley didn't call upon Sherrill in the ninth inning of Thursday's game against the Yankees because he prefers not using his closer in a tie game on the road. But he did it yesterday after Jim Johnson, who took the loss Thursday, began the ninth by striking out B.J. Upton.
Though Sherrill faced two batters Friday, Trembley wanted to give him more work. "I needed to get him in a game," Trembley said.
The Orioles fell behind 4-1 after the third inning, with starter Daniel Cabrera serving up a two-run homer to Pena. But Cabrera pitched into the sixth, allowing nine hits and walking six, and the Orioles rallied to tie the game. Melvin Mora singled in the sixth to score Brian Roberts, who tripled, and end a 1-for-20 slump. After Nick Markakis bounced into a double play, Aubrey Huff launched a solo home run.
The score stayed the same until the ninth. And so did the Orioles' mood.
"Once we got the home run, we felt like we were going to win the game, and it just didn't happen," Trembley said.
"You're going to go through these kinds of situations. You just battle your way out of it. That's all you do."
Walker tried to take solace in the club's ability to stay competitive for most of a 1-5 road trip. Better to look there than the division standings, which have flipped over on the Orioles.
"Take away the first two innings of [Saturday night's] game, and we've been in just about every game," Walker said. "We're putting ourselves in good position. We've just got to get over the hump and get it done instead of just talking about it."