A bitter ending

The Baltimore Sun

Some of the Orioles headed out of town last night and others will follow in the coming days as the process of forgetting the brutal end of this 2008 season begins in earnest.

But before boarding their planes or packing their cars, the Orioles had to digest one more drubbing by one of their American League East rivals. A 10-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before an announced 19,554 yesterday provided a fitting conclusion to the season and a final piece of evidence to club president Andy MacPhail on how much ground the Orioles still have make up to be competitive in their division.

"Personally, I feel fine" about the season, said veteran third baseman Melvin Mora, who drove in his 104th run yesterday, providing the only offense against Jesse Litsch and two Blue Jays relievers. "Team? We go home again. We don't go to October. What else can I tell you?"

The numbers say plenty. It was the Orioles' 11th loss in the past 12 games and their 30th defeat in the past 37 contests, a stretch that rivals their atrocious 4-32 finish in 2002. They finished 68-93, their fewest victories since 2002 and their fifth-lowest victory total in the past 20 seasons.

And perhaps even more humbling than an 11th straight losing campaign and a last-place finish for the first time since 1988, the Orioles went 22-50 against AL East foes. The .306 winning percentage is the third worst by any team in division play since 2001, the first year of the unbalanced schedule.

"You've got to try and take the positives as best as you can. We'll look to this winter and certainly try to see what we can do to get better," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Eventually, it gets to a point where you're ready for a vacation when it's not going as well as you'd like. But it's still a game, you still get to go out and do something you love for a living, so it's certainly not the end of the world by any stretch. But I would have liked for it to be a little more fun the last part of the season."

Roberts is one of several Orioles who face an uncertain offseason. He will be entering his last season before he's eligible for free agency, and though MacPhail said he will explore contract-extension talks with the two-time All-Star second baseman, he's also expected to entertain trade talks about Roberts. If Roberts played his last game as an Oriole yesterday, it ended with him limping back to the dugout in the sixth inning after getting hit in the right shin by a pitch from Litsch.

"I guess it's crossed my mind at some point," said Roberts, when asked whether he thought that could have been his last at-bat as an Oriole. "You never know. I mean, you're not promised tomorrow, no matter what. I'm not promising that I'll be here tomorrow, alive and living, much less in a certain uniform. So I just try to take it all in and try to understand all the circumstances."

There were some positives yesterday in a game that the Orioles trailed 7-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, largely because of two home runs from Vernon Wells, a solo shot in the second and a three-run drive in the fifth. Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who had been shut down with a right-shoulder impingement, made his first start since Aug. 29, pitching four innings and allowing three runs, and earning praise from teammates for working so hard to get back to the mound.

"It was exciting to run out of the dugout onto the field and do warm-ups," said Guthrie, who finished the season with a 10-12 record and a 3.63 ERA. "It was a long time, four weeks or 30 days. It was nice to be out there."

Outfielder Nick Markakis had three hits and finished with a team-leading .306 average, and George Sherrill, who saved 31 games in his first season as Orioles closer, struck out two in a scoreless ninth.

But the bad far outweighed the good on a day when the team's focus appeared elsewhere. Orioles hitters managed just five hits, three off Litsch, who pitched seven strong innings. The defense made two errors, and Ramon Hernandez committed a passed ball. Orioles pitchers threw too many balls over the fat part of the plate, allowing 15 hits and double-digit runs for the sixth time in 25 games this month.

Their 21st loss in 25 Sunday games was a microcosm of the second half of the season, one that the Orioles will try to put behind them as soon as possible.

"You learn a great deal through adversity and you learn a great deal through success, so I'll take a little bit of both from both areas," manager Dave Trembley said. "I'm kind of where I was last year, that when I get on a plane [today] to go home to Daytona Beach, this season is over. I'll go to the organizational meetings and we'll start planning for next year."

68

Orioles wins in 2008. It's their fewest since 2002 and the fifth-lowest total in the past 20 seasons.

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