ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Before the Orioles left for their seven-game road trip last week, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones called the stretch against the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, "gut-check" time.
After the Orioles lost six of seven, including 6-0 to the Rangers Sunday afternoon to make their diminishing playoff hopes faint at best, Jones exchanged gut talk for a soliloquy on his team's heart.
When asked his thoughts about the club's effort level recently -- a span in which they've lost four straight, 10 of their last 11 and 11 of 13 -- the Orioles' longest-tenured player and vocal leader quickly and adamantly defended his teammates.
"Whenever someone says, 'Oh, you don't give an effort. You're not playing [with] effort.' That's kind of calling someone a coward," Jones said. "Some days it looks pretty, some days it doesn't, but the effort is always there. For some people to say that our effort level isn't there just because we struck out 11 times [Sunday]. We could strike out 20 times.
"But to say our effort level wasn't there, that's a slap in the face. And I want to slap somebody in the face who says that."
Yes, Jones agreed, the team is losing at a disturbing rate during a crucial time.
The Orioles (63-67) are now 11 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East and 5 ½ behind the Rangers (68-61) for the second wild-card spot in the AL. The Orioles have fallen into fourth in the division and are just three games ahead of the Boston Red Sox for last place in the AL East.
But, Jones said, the club's effort and desire to win shouldn't be questioned.
"It annoys the hell out of me when people say effort is low," Jones said.
Jones was asked whether he would consider calling a team meeting, but he countered that he is continually talking and challenging his teammates.
"I talk to these guys every day. What do you want me to do? Bend them over and spank them? They're grown men. They understand the objective here," Jones said. "It's not like, 'I'll just come play and have some fun in the major leagues.' No, we are here to win and they understand that. A lot of the guys were here last year and got a taste of what we were about and the way we play the game. Right now, we're just getting beat."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked whether there was a time to have a team meeting -- and he said the logistics were tough with other responsibilities, including media obligations.
"That's not to say we already haven't done it two or three times," Showalter said. "But I'm not going to publicize [it] because we have to pick our spots."
He echoed Jones' belief that effort is not a problem within the Orioles' clubhouse.
"We've got to keep working. We've tried a lot of different things, trust me," Showalter said. "It's not a time to point fingers. It's a time to rally around each other, which our guys have already tried to do and will do."
Sunday's formula for defeat was similar to most of the losses in this stretch: Uneven starting pitching and an invisible offense that managed just three hits against Rangers' lefty Derek Holland.
The Orioles were outscored 35-20 in the seven-game road trip -- they won just one game -- while their starters have pitched to a 6.47 ERA in that span.
When a team is struggling the way the Orioles are, it doesn't take much to keep them down.
The first inning Sunday was enough.
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who hasn't won since July 25 and has had one quality start since then, allowed three straight singles to start the first inning. An Adrian Beltre sacrifice fly and a Gonzalez wild pitch immediately gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. The Rangers picked up two more against Gonzalez on an infield single by Elvis Andrus in the third and a RBI single by Hanser Alberto in the sixth against reliever Jason Garcia.
Gonzalez (9-11) was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He has now thrown 5 1/3 innings or fewer in 11 of his last 14 starts, including an injury-shortened outing.
"Command was better; was making better pitches toward the end of the game," Gonzalez said. "You've got to be mentally tough. You've got to keep grinding. I know everyone is trying to do their best out there."
Texas scored two more runs in the ninth against closer Zach Britton, who was in to get some work. He gave up a two-out, RBI single to Delino DeShields; a second run scored when left fielder Steve Pearce overran DeShields' single.
Holland (2-1), who has missed most of the season with a left shoulder injury, allowed just three hits and walked none in the complete-game victory. His 11 strikeouts tied a career-high.
"He was good. He's been good for quite a while," Showalter said. "He's certainly got his health back and that bodes well for him, bad for us."
The whole week was bad for the Orioles. Now they'll come home to Camden Yards for a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, hoping that they can do something to salvage the last month.
"We are still right in the thick of things, so if you think we aren't, cool," Jones said. "I think we are in the thick of things, just have to go on a five-, six-game winning streak."