The three-day All-Star break was supposed to refresh and recharge an Orioles team that has lost its way. One thing it clearly didn't do was eradicate a fundamental problem that has has been a problem for the club all year: poor base running.
The Orioles had three runners thrown out on the bases and twice didn't score despite having runners on first and third and no outs. They nearly overcame the gaffes and three Detroit Tigers home runs before leaving the tying run at third base in the ninth inning in a 6-5 loss before an announced 23,224 last night at Camden Yards.
"We've got to play perfect baseball, and we've had way too many games where we've had base-running mistakes or mental letdowns," said left fielder Jay Payton, who robbed Gary Sheffield of a second home run in the eighth, keeping the Orioles' deficit at two runs. "This isn't a young team. This is pretty much a veteran team. These are mistakes that we shouldn't be making."
Trailing by two runs in the ninth, the Orioles (45-49) loaded the bases against closer Todd Jones with one out. Aubrey Huff came a few feet from hitting a walkoff grand slam, but his fly ball died on the warning track in the glove of center fielder Curtis Granderson. Jones then retired Kevin Millar on a groundout to pick up his 18th save.
It was the Orioles' third straight loss and their eighth in the past nine games, dropping them to a season-high four games below .500. Six of the losses during this stretch have been by one run. Overall, they have lost nine straight one-run games, a streak that brings back memories of last year, when the Orioles went 13-31 in one-run affairs.
"We're doing what we did a little bit last year, where we're losing these games," Payton said. "Earlier in the season, we were finding ways to win them. Right now, it's like we're a hit or a pitch away. We've had opportunities, and we just haven't been able to do it."
Rookie left-hander Garrett Olson (6-5) allowed five earned runs in six innings, his longest outing since June 5. He was hurt by the long ball, allowing a two-run blast to Sheffield in the second and a two-out, two-run shot to Brandon Inge in the sixth. Inge's homer put the Tigers up 5-4.
Marcus Thames extended the Tigers' lead with a solo homer in the seventh off Dennis Sarfate, and it would have been a three-run game had Payton not leaped high over the wall in the eighth to bring back Sheffield's potential homer.
"Obviously, you come across games where you want to take a couple pitches back," Olson said. "Unfortunately, it went their way tonight."
The Orioles' poor showing on the bases had a lot to do with that. With men on first and third and no outs in the second, Payton hit a hard grounder to third. The Tigers appeared to be conceding the run in favor of the double play as Inge threw to second. However, Melvin Mora hesitated breaking off third and was thrown out by Placido Polanco, who had caught Inge's throw for the forceout at second and then fired home to get Mora.
"When you start and stop, you've got to shut it down," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who also watched Nick Markakis hesitate and eventually get thrown out in the third trying to advance to second on Huff's deep flyout to left. "That mistake has happened way too often. It just seems like there's some indecision there."
Trailing by a run in the sixth, the Orioles again had runners on first and third with no outs against Tigers starter Kenny Rogers (7-6). Brandon Fahey hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He threw home to Ivan Rodriguez, who tagged out Ramon Hernandez in a rundown. Brian Roberts followed by hitting into a threat-ending double play.
"I hate to harp on it," Trembley said. "[When] you get as many hits as we got  and have the right guys up there at the end of the game and it doesn't happen, it doesn't sit well with anybody."