What had been inevitable for weeks -- if not months -- became official Saturday when the Orioles clinched another losing season with a listless defeat that typifies their 14 years of futility.
A subpar start and some poor at-bats in key spots -- sound familiar? -- doomed the Orioles in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays before an announced 14,223 at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles' 82nd loss was all but secured when Alfredo Simon exited after allowing a career-high six earned runs -- all with two outs -- in just five innings. But the Orioles' offense made sure the result stood by managing only three runs against a shaky Wade Davis, who allowed five hits and four walks over 6 2/3 innings, and found the strike zone with just 67 of his 112 pitches.
It was just the Orioles' second loss in eight games here, and it snapped their five-game road winning streak. Of greater significance, the franchise streak of losing seasons will extend into 2012, not that there was any lingering doubt that would occur.
"You don't want to continue a trend like that," said center fielder Adam Jones. "Fourteen years is a long time. We got to do something about it, change it up."
The Orioles (55-82) look down only at the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are working on a 19th consecutive losing campaign, the longest for any professional North American sports team. The Pirates won today, thanks to former Oriole Derrek Lee's ninth-inning grand slam to beat the Chicago Cubs, but they are still 64-75, and in need an amazing turnaround to avoid extending their dubious streak.
But the Pirates' plight provides little solace to the Orioles, who entered this season hoping to make serious progress in the standings. Thoughts of a winning season were still realistic with the Orioles at 30-31 following a June 10 victory over these same Rays.
Then, they lost 14 of 15 games spanning the season's first and second half, and the question became when -- not if -- they would clinch their 14th straight losing season. The Orioles managed to push the inevitable back a couple of days by winning eight of 12 coming in, but they could only hold out for so long before one of their starters didn't give them a chance to win, or the offense botched numerous opportunities to take control of the game.
To manager Buck Showalter, it essentially came back to Simon, who was presented with a two-run lead on Nick Markakis' homer before throwing his first pitch. He squandered that in no time at all, and never was able to establish any rhythm.
"It's one of the reasons why he's had those inconsistencies in his career," said Showalter. "He has a couple of really good outings and than a couple that are just not anything we [need]. We're looking for people that you know what you are going to get, day in, day out. Command of the fastball has to be there to pitch at this level, and tonight wasn't one of those nights."
Simon, who had allowed just four earned runs in 15 innings in his previous two starts, never proved capable of consistently throwing any of his pitches for strikes. He was victimized primarily by Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, who hit a two-run double in the first inning, and a bases-loaded double in the fifth that gave the Rays a 6-2 lead. In both cases, Simon issued a two-out walk to Matt Joyce right ahead of Upton.
"I just walked a couple guys and then when I got bases loaded, I just tried to throw a strike but it was up and he hit the ball," Simon said. "All my pitches today were up and there's no excuse for that."
There was also no excuse for the Orioles' offense repeatedly letting Davis off the hook. The Rays' right-hander walked two guys in two different innings and the Orioles managed only one run during those frames. Their biggest opportunity came in the sixth when Matt Wieters' RBI single cut the visitor's deficit to 6-3. A walk to Mark Reynolds then loaded the bases with one out, but third baseman Robert Andino meekly hit a comebacker to Davis, who started an inning-ending double play. The Orioles have only one hit in their last 11 at-bats with the bases loaded.
The Orioles went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left seven runners on, including at least one in each of the final four innings.
"We usually give ourselves the opportunity to get the runs," said Jones who went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. "We just have to execute and get that hit."
With a losing season now secured, the Orioles can focus on trying to avoid one more dubious feat: a 100-loss season. The Orioles have to go no worse than 8-17 over their final 25 games to avoid what would be just the franchise's second 100-loss campaign since 1954.
"This last month is where it can really show the [guts] that everybody has, basically," Jones said. "We got the last three weeks ahead of us. We know that there is no playoffs in our future this year, but we still have 20-something games to go out there and prove something to the rest of the league. We need to take it upon ourselves individually and as a team to go out there and play the game as hard as we can until that last out is made of the season."