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Peter Schmuck: Mariners poke a space needle into Orioles momentum during disastrous four-game set in Seattle

The Orioles served up decisive home runs on 0-2 pitches, two-out walks and run-scoring balks in being swept.

If they make a movie about the Orioles' just-completed four-game series against the Mariners, it would have to be called "Clueless in Seattle."

The O's stumbled around Safeco Field as if they were drunk on all those home runs they hit in June. They made pitchers you've never heard of look like Cy Young. They served up decisive home runs on 0-2 pitches. They handed out two-out walks and run-scoring balks.

There's really no explaining it. They arrived in the Great Northwest riding their third seven-game winning streak of the year. They had just swept the San Diego Padres to open a lengthy West Coast road trip with a five-game division lead and were scoring runs at such a heady pace it seemed like everything was coming up orange and black.

They headed for Los Angeles on Sunday night black and blue.

If ever there was a quantum momentum shift, this was it. The Mariners entered the series with eight losses in their previous 11 games and had the fifth-worst home record in the American League.

So what happens? The Orioles arrive in town with a chance to break the all-time home run record for June and proceed to do that — and only that. Hyun Soo Kim hit the record-breaker on Thursday night, but he had to break up a shutout in the seventh inning by Taijuan Walker, whose 3-6 record didn't look like much against the 10-1 mark that Chris Tillman brought into the game. But you already know about the Orioles and their inability to take advantage of unimpressive starting pitchers.

Give Walker credit. He pitched very well and Tillman didn't. Stuff like that happens in baseball, and it happened again on Friday night.

The Orioles came up short against 31-year-old journeyman Wade LeBlanc. (No, not the guy from "Friends," though he probably would have gone six the way the Orioles were swinging the bat that night.)

Kevin Gausman didn't pitch badly and the Orioles actually had a one-run lead in that game, but Gausman blinked in the sixth inning. He threw an 0-2 pitch to Kyle Seager that will be coming down any minute now.

Former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey pointed out on the MASN post-game show that it was the 11th time in Gausman's short career that he had given up a home run on an 0-2 pitch, which used to be a big no-no in the majors. That might explain why Seager seemed to know that he was getting something in the hitting zone and jumped on it quicker than me on an In-and-Out Double-Double with raw onions.

Two games into the series, the Orioles had used up their two most talented starting pitchers and the Mariners were probably drooling at the prospect of facing young Tyler Wilson with a chance to lock up the series.

If they were actually drooling, it was hard to tell because they were too busy jogging around the bases in the first four innings. They scored eight runs off Wilson on nine hits in three-plus innings and basically knocked him all the way back to Triple-A Norfolk. All eight runs scored on three multi-RBI homers.

The Orioles offense, meanwhile, did put some pressure on left-hander James Paxton, who came into the game with a 1-3 record and a 4-plus ERA but, well, you already know about the Orioles and guys like that. They were down 8-1 by the time they displayed any resemblance to the team that came into the series averaging nearly nine runs per game during their seven-game winning streak.

Which brings us to Sunday's series finale and an opportunity for struggling starter Ubaldo Jimenez to build on a couple of decent starts. He held the Mariners hitless through the first two innings and then the Mariners apparently realized they were facing Ubaldo Jimenez.

He walked the leadoff batter in the third, allowed a bloop single and then misplayed a bunt to load the bases with no one out for Mariners left fielder Seth Smith.

If you haven't been staying up until 2 a.m. every night to watch these Pacific Daily Time games, you probably remember Smith as a journeyman outfielder who could be depended on to hit 15 homers and drive in 50-or-so runs every year. If you have been watching every game, you now view him as the second coming of Fred Lynn.

Smith homered in each of the first three games after never having homered in more than two straight games in his 10-year big league career. So, why wouldn't Jimenez split the plate with an 0-2 pitch with the bases loaded and no one out? And why wouldn't Smith jack a grand slam to get the Mariners rolling toward a four-game sweep?

If that wasn't discouraging enough, Jimenez would negate a three-run Orioles rally in their ensuing at-bat by giving up two more runs in the bottom of the inning — the last on a two-out balk.

This undoubtedly will recharge the debate over his place in the starting rotation — and on the roster — but he was just one of the actors in a passionless play that lasted four painful acts.

The hitters cooled off and quickly reverted to some of their old habits. The starters struggled and the middle relievers could not bail them out.

The team that seemed so hot a few days ago will head to Dodger Stadium without an ounce of momentum and with more troubling questions about the viability of their starting rotation.

They still have a three-game cushion atop the American League East, but it must feel as if somebody just poked a Space Needle into it.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

peter.schmuck@baltimoresun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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