The Orioles came back from the All-Star break looking much like the team that went into it, which had to be weighing on manager Dave Trembley's mind when he arrived at the ballpark yesterday for the second game of a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers.
Three base-running mistakes contributed to another one-run loss Thursday night and painted the picture of a team losing focus and slipping into a midseason malaise.
Perhaps that appearance was deceiving, but Trembley isn't a guy to sit around waiting to find out. He called a brief-but-pointed team meeting yesterday and later made it clear during his pre-game news conference that he's not going to tolerate any foolishness from the players or the media.
"One thing I don't like," Trembley said, "I don't like to be embarrassed. I don't like this club to be embarrassed."
Whether it was a calculated effort to shake everybody up or a spontaneous reaction to a potential attitudinal shift in the clubhouse, give him credit for being decisive. All the danger signals were there.
The Orioles had lost eight of nine games and extended to nine their string of defeats in games decided by one run. The ragged loss Thursday could be attributed to any number of factors, but it was hard not to connect some dots and conclude that the mind-set of the club might be a little out of whack.
And why not? The Orioles are no longer exceeding expectations, and speculation has begun to mount that several key players could be dealt before the July 31 deadline for completing trades without waivers. It would be only human for some of them to be wondering what the near future will bring, which could explain some of what Trembley described as "indecisiveness" on the base paths Thursday night.
Nobody, however, was making excuses.
"I think everybody has to wrestle with their own demons," said Orioles president Andy MacPhail. "They can find reasons to be distracted. If that's what you want to do, you can find that."
MacPhail wasn't saying that's what happened Thursday night. He was just acknowledging the obvious, that baseball is a human game subject to the vagaries of human frailty and emotion. That was just as apparent last night, when the Orioles looked much more intense.
"The remarkable thing about major league players -- they have to stay focused for 162 games," he said. "That's not an easy thing. Over the course of the season, it's natural to wonder, 'Am I going to make the team?' 'Am I getting to play enough?' 'Am I going to get traded?' There are 100 different things you can find to distract you. ... It's a difficult human thing, but it's part of the sport.
"In the end, we're all responsible for our jobs. We have to be realistic. We have to be aware of the environment and do what is required."
First baseman Kevin Millar pondered the possibility that some players may have let the recent slump and the coming trade deadline get into their heads, then summarily dismissed it.
"I don't think that concept has set in yet," he said. "Talk to me in 10 days if things keep going the way they have, but this team is still focused. We're trying to surprise people. We want to get back to .500. I think it's a little early for that."
Designated hitter Aubrey Huff, who knows all about being the subject of midseason trade talk, also cautioned against reading too much into one or two disjointed performances.
"We can't worry about what they may do or may not do in the front office," he said. "We've got to play baseball. If I get traded, I get traded."
Trembley is taking the same approach in his advice to anyone who might be letting hypothetical possibilities obscure the job at hand.
"I think you have to spend more time one-on-one with guys," Trembley said. "You put yourself in their position. You want to convey to them to control what you can control. Don't get caught up in any emotional things. It's all about pride."
While he was at it, he also sent a message to anyone -- players, fans, media -- who might doubt his commitment to changing the culture both inside the clubhouse and throughout the organization.
"In my wildest dreams, you think that was part of my job being a major league manager?" Trembley said. "No, but I'll deal with it because I'm committed that while I'm here, it's going to better than it's ever been. There isn't going to be one stone unturned here because I see everything, I hear everything, and I live and die with everything here. Not for Dave Trembley, but for the Baltimore Orioles. And if you think that's a bunch of poppycock and this and that, people don't know who I am. They don't know who I am. That's my sermon."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.