On the surface, it looked like just another meaningless September game between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Camden Yards was three-quarters empty, and on a day the Orioles honored their minor league affiliates, the atmosphere was more suited for Bowie or Delmarva.
The difference is that the Rays, the longtime cellar dwellers in the American League East, are headed to the playoffs for the first time and moving closer to a division title, thanks to a wealth of young talent that is maturing before baseball's eyes. The Orioles are just playing out the string, and not doing very well at that.
A 4-2 loss to the Rays, who won in David Price's first major league start despite getting just three hits, was the Orioles' sixth straight defeat overall and their ninth consecutive setback to Tampa Bay. It left manager Dave Trembley fuming, particularly about what he perceived as base-running gaffes by Luke Scott and Oscar Salazar.
"The games that you should win, we should win," said Trembley, whose team has three losing streaks of five games or more during the past four weeks and is 5-23 during that span. "I don't care what time of the year it is, I don't care what game it is. You get an opportunity to win the game, do enough right things to win it. And there weren't enough things done right to win the game. This is the big leagues."
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts' one-out error on Gabe Gross' ground ball, compounded by Rocky Cherry's failure to throw strikes, led to the Rays scoring two unearned runs in the seventh inning. Tampa Bay, whose magic number to win the division is down to four, has beaten the Orioles 12 times in 15 games this season. But this one stung at Trembley a little more.
Trembley didn't mention Scott by name, but he was miffed by the outfielder's failure to go from first to third on Ramon Hernandez's single to left-center field in the Orioles' two-run fifth. He did call out Salazar, who would have been doubled up in the sixth inning on Hernandez's popout if Aubrey Huff hadn't been.
Hernandez and Huff were running on the pitch to Hernandez. When Rays center fielder B.J. Upton caught the ball, Huff was halfway between second and third base and Salazar was standing on second base. Huff initially made an effort to get back to second but stopped when he saw Salazar there.
"Kamikaze baseball, you don't just run until you're out," Trembley said. "To me that's a total mental breakdown on his part. Total. That's embarrassing to me, to the club and the people that are watching the game."
Huff was perplexed when he was informed of his manager's take on the play.
"We couldn't have done anything about that," he said. "That's not a base-running mistake. We were on the move with the pitch. If Oscar's not out, I'm out. There's no way I could have gotten back on second base."
The game started as a pitching duel as both teams were hitless through the first four innings. The Rays broke through in the fifth when Orioles starter Brian Bass, who was making just his third start, tired and walked three straight batters to load the bases with two outs. Trembley yanked Bass in favor of Randor Bierd, who gave up a two-run single to Akinori Iwamura.
Asked about taking a starter out with a no-hit bid, Trembley said: "The guy was done. Look at his legs, look at his face, look at his arm angle. He was done. Cooked."
Price, the first overall pick in last year's draft and one of baseball's best prospects, allowed two runs (one earned) in 5 1/3 innings but didn't factor into the decision. He had made two relief appearances before last night's start.
"He's definitely got the stuff with the hype," Huff said. "He's going to be good. He's just another good starter for them."