Doubling down

The Baltimore Sun

As far back as a month ago, it seemed inevitable. Sure, the Orioles would probably finish in last place and extend their stretch of losing seasons to 11. But at the very least, they would finish with a better record than their 69-win predecessors, not expected after the offseason trades of Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada.

After yet another late-season collapse, that is no longer likely. And frankly, the Orioles would probably settle for just winning one more game before this miserable month ends.

Providing very little resistance in the Tampa Bay Rays' quest to clinch the American League East title, the Orioles were swept in a doubleheader yesterday, falling 5-2 in the first game and then 7-5 in the nightcap before an announced 15,215 at Camden Yards.

In the nightcap, the Orioles (67-90) squandered a good pitching performance from Alfredo Simon and a four-run eighth-inning lead. The Rays scored six runs in the inning.

"It's difficult, to be honest with you," said Orioles reliever Jamie Walker, who faced four batters and couldn't get an out in the inning. "It just seems right now that the ball is not falling in our place. There's no excuses there. That's a game that we got to win. When your starter goes into the eighth inning with two outs, you have to win that game."

The Orioles have dropped eight straight games, tying a season high, and 25 of their past 30. They have also lost 11 straight to the Rays, who earned their first doubleheader sweep in team history and moved even closer to another franchise first that would be far more embarrassing to the Orioles.

With a victory in tonight's series finale coupled with a Boston Red Sox loss to the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay could clinch the AL East and break out the champagne in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards.

The Rays trailed 5-1 in the eighth inning of the nightcap and couldn't figure out Simon, a right-hander purchased this month from the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultans.

In his first major league start, Simon allowed just one run and five hits through seven innings. He left the game after surrendering a long solo homer to Evan Longoria that cut the Orioles' lead to 5-3.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley wanted to bring in Jim Miller, but the pitcher felt a muscle in his side grab while he was warming up. Thus, Trembley called on Walker, who allowed an RBI single to Jason Bartlett and a two-run single to Dioner Navarro.

"Simon was really improved from the last time he pitched," Trembley said. "Obviously we would've liked to get him a win, but we couldn't get the third out. It was a tough way to lose."

In the first game, which was originally scheduled for April 3 but was postponed by rain, Garrett Olson turned in a quality start, allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks over six innings but mixing in a costly throwing error.

If it was Olson's last start - and it very well could have been if Jeremy Guthrie gets through today's simulated game without any trouble - then it was emblematic of his season. The left-hander, 24, looked in control but hit a wall in the fifth and sixth innings.

Olson's role heading into spring training remains uncertain. Is he a starter, and if so, should it be in the Orioles' rotation or back at Triple-A Norfolk? Or is his future role in the bullpen?

He is 9-10 with a 6.65 ERA. He has won just one of his past eight starts and pitched six complete innings just three times during that span. Olson, somewhat surprisingly, said he is "very happy" with his season.

"I feel like I went out there and gave 100 percent every day," Olson said. "I feel like I didn't cheat myself or the team, and obviously you look at some of the numbers and, yeah, it could have been better, but overall I can't be disappointed with it."

NOTES: : Trembley said pitcher Daniel Cabrera, who was shut down last week, wants to get a second opinion on his sprained right elbow ... Melvin Mora was out of the lineup for both games yesterday and told the Orioles' athletic training staff his hamstring has gotten worse. His season could be over.

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