BOSTON - The Orioles have lost for 10 straight seasons and are rapidly approaching an 11th consecutive sub-.500 campaign, so finding rock bottom during that stretch isn't easy.
But to most long-suffering Orioles fans - who have seen their team give up 30 runs, among other indignities - the lowest point in a decade of losing is often viewed as the conclusion of the 2002 season.
Geronimo Gil, Jose Leon and the rest of those unforgettable 2002 Orioles lost 32 of the final 36 games in a stretch that rivaled the 1988 Orioles' 0-21 start in terms of futility. The current Orioles haven't even begun a flirtation with that mark, though it's getting harder and harder not to imagine the ugly possibilities.
The Orioles gave up 10 runs or more for the fourth time in the past five games last night, getting routed, 14-2, by the Boston Red Sox in a game at Fenway Park that was essentially over by the fourth inning. Radhames Liz was knocked around for a career-high nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, and the Orioles' bullpen didn't fare much better with Fernando Cabrera giving up a three-run homer to Dustin Pedroia, the first batter he faced.
"You've hit rock bottom and you would think that sooner or later, it's going to turn for you," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "That's the only approach I think you can take. I don't know how much worse it could get. You'd like to think that tomorrow's another day and you'll play better."
It was the Orioles' fifth straight loss and their 10th in the past 11 games. They'll try to avoid an 0-6 roadtrip this afternoon but won't have ace Jeremy Guthrie on the mound to lean on. He'll miss the start with a tired right shoulder. Instead, Red Sox 16-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka will be opposed by Lance Cormier, who hasn't started or pitched more than four innings all year.
"I think we're all frustrated, certainly," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "But, we've still got a month to go. You've got to find a way to start plugging away and we've got to find some guys to step up. When it gets to this point, you've really got to grind it out."
If Trembley didn't already have deep admiration for former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, he could start to develop it over the final 3 1/2 weeks of the season. Hargrove was at the helm of the 2002 squad that won just four games after Aug. 23. On that date, Chris Brock relieved a shaky Scott Erickson and pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball to help the Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays and improve to 63-63.
After that, the Orioles lost 10 straight games, won one, dropped eight straight, won three of five and closed the season by losing 12 in a row. With 36 games to play, the current Orioles were 61-65. They have gone 2-10 since and would have to lose 22 of the final 24 to match the 2002 team's 4-32 finish.
Sure, it's highly unlikely. But with Guthrie down for at least one start and reliever Jim Johnson having shoulder issues, Trembley will have to keep trotting out pitchers who are clearly not major league ready. It was Liz's turn last night.
"My delivery was good, my pitches were good. But I was trying to be too perfect," said Liz, who is 0-2 with a 19.75 ERA in three starts against Boston.
Liz's ERA, already a robust 6.95 entering the game, ballooned nearly a full run to 7.91.
"Three times he walked a guy to face [David] Ortiz," Trembley said. "That's not a good mix."
Nor is a cast of struggling pitchers facing some of the top teams in the American League, as this road trip has proved.
"This is a team. This isn't one group against another group," Roberts said. "We're there battling with the pitchers as much as they're battling with us."