On seventh day, O's, fans perplexed

The Baltimore Sun

It has become known as "the streak," an important lowercase distinction so as not to confuse it with the one crafted by Baltimore sports icon Cal Ripken Jr. and revered by his fans.

This one wasn't built by a single man. An entire team can be credited for the 14 straight losses on Sundays - a day of unrest for the Orioles. And that's a streak of a different color. And feel. And sentimentality.

At least Ripken's was more easily understood. He willed his body to play in 2,632 games in a row, a phenomenal feat that seemed beyond comprehension at times but certainly could be explained. If his name appeared in the lineup, he would move closer to Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record of 2,130.

So what's going on with the Orioles? Why are they 44-35 during every other day and night of the week, but 1-14 on the first one?

"We don't know what it is," outfielder Nick Markakis said. "We just don't play well on Sundays."

First baseman Kevin Millar said players became more aware of it during last weekend's series in Boston, and a few comical suggestions were made to change their luck.

"[Manager] Dave Trembley wanted to check rooms Saturday night, and if you were in your room, you were going to get fined," Millar said. "I seriously wanted to have a sleepover in Fenway Park, bring our sleeping bags outside and have everybody sleep at the stadium, but we didn't have time to arrange it. And we ended up losing, 2-1.

"It's just a number. It's quirky. Why that happens, who knows? We just have to find a way to win a game on Sunday. It's one of those crazy things. But the guys aren't too worried about going crazy over the situation."

Since rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning to defeat the Seattle Mariners on April 6, the Orioles have known nothing except frustration and failure on Sundays. Today's game against the Detroit Tigers provides their latest chance for redemption.

"The only thing I can come up with is, maybe they don't like to play in the sunshine," said Charlie Black of Westminster, who has a Sunday ticket plan with his wife, Louise.

If that were true, the Orioles wouldn't be 9-4 in their other day games. But it's a popular theory among fans grasping for logic and opening an empty palm.

"We're die-hard Orioles fans, so we'll keep going regardless of how many in a row they lose, but it's a bit uncomfortable having them lose every game you're at," said Nick Christy of North East, another Sunday customer, along with his wife, Ashley. "I was actually starting to think we were bad luck until we missed a Sunday game because of travel last week and they lost anyway."

It happens in many different ways, the most common being by one run - the outcome of eight games, including five of the past six. They were one strike away from ending the streak June 29 when closer George Sherrill surrendered a walk-off home run to Washington's Ronnie Belliard in the 12th inning at Nationals Park. Melvin Mora stranded 11 runners in last Sunday's 2-1 loss in Boston.

"I really think these guys are trying," Charlie Black said. "Why Sunday is a losing day, I don't know. In our section, it's the same people, the same groups, and we talk about it, even with the ushers. They're like, 'Maybe this is the Sunday.' "

Adds his wife, Louise: "I'm not going to quit going to games because they're not winning on Sundays. And I do think the team attitude this year is improved. I see these guys fighting to the 27th out."

The last streak of 14 or more defeats on a given day belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who dropped 15 in a row on Saturdays during the 2004 season. The major league record is shared by the 1939 St. Louis Browns (Tuesdays) and 1890 Pittsburgh Innocents (Fridays) at 21.

"I had no idea we lost that many in a row," said reliever Lance Cormier, who played for the Diamondbacks in '04. "You probably could ask every player, and they don't know what date it is. They show up the same every day. Guys will say it's Groundhog Day every day. It's just bad luck, the way things have fallen. It's not like we're in here after Saturday's game saying, 'OK, we've got to win tomorrow.' It's just weird how it's happened."

Robert Singer, a sports psychologist at the University of Florida, said it would be easy to treat the symptoms if they were coming from one individual, such as when Steve Sax, the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman in the 1980s, suddenly had trouble making accurate throws to first.

"Once a person becomes very aware of negative outcomes when a specific situation occurs, that person becomes much more conscious of it and tries to control it so that it doesn't happen again. And it usually gets worse before it gets better," Singer said. "If an event happens more than once, then you might expect it to happen again. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 'How are we going to lose today?' I think that explains how it perpetuates itself. The hardest thing is how to correct it."

The Orioles were 8-17 on Sundays last year, an unimpressive record they would embrace with vigor in 2008, when they have tumbled into last place in the American League East after spending most of the season above .500.

"Until two weeks ago, when [newspapers] started to compose the lists, I didn't really think about it," said Baltimore resident Sara May Gold, who has had the Sunday plan for 10 years. "Not that I didn't realize every Sunday that they were losing, but it didn't matter. The team was doing so well and was so above everybody's expectations, it almost didn't matter. I was so caught up in them overachieving that I just didn't worry about them losing. But after the last couple weeks, it's become much more of an issue."

How long has it been since they won on a Sunday? Luis Hernandez delivered a walk-off single, and he was designated for assignment June 2 and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Westminster resident Chuck Leppo attended that game with his best friend, Brett - their only Sunday excursion until today, when they will settle into their bleacher seats and hope for a repeat performance.

"We wanted to go to another game this year, so we figured we were 1-0 on Sundays and we could be 2-0 ending the curse," Leppo said. "With any luck, the crowd will be more alive this time around because Orioles Magic is hungry to celebrate on Sunday once again."

There's also the added incentive of today's second "We Win, You Win" promotion from the Orioles, who are promising all fans in attendance two free tickets in the same seating category to any future nonprime game if this one ends in victory. They offered one complimentary ticket during the first promotion and couldn't give them away.

"We hope that by literally doubling our efforts this Sunday, we'll put an end to this unusual streak and our fans will walk away with a reward for coming out to support us," said Greg Bader, director of communications. "If we win, those fans at the game will have clearly demonstrated themselves to be good luck charms, so we'll certainly want them to come back.

"Our 'We Win, You Win' will hopefully make for a successful sequel. We have no plans to turn it into a trilogy."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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