— They keep saying that things cannot possibly get any worse, only to find out a couple of hours later that indeed they can.
In a miserable first two weeks of the season, the Orioles thought they had manufactured every possible way to lose a ballgame. They learned Saturday in a 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics that they hadn't.
Asked to protect a one-run lead and end a humiliating eight-game losing streak, converted Orioles closer Jim Johnson thought he had the second out of the ninth on a strikeout of Rajai Davis. But after Davis swung wildly and missed, Johnson's ball hit a divot near home plate and shot over catcher Matt Wieters and to the netting behind the plate.
Davis took first base instead of heading back to the dugout, and two batters later, Ryan Sweeney ripped a single to right field that scored two runs and sent the Orioles trudging back to the dugout, bearing the weight of another gut-wrenching loss, a nine-game losing streak and a major league-worst 1-11 record.
"You talk about when things go bad," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said, his voice cracking. "You think you've seen it all, and that happens today. It's just one more thing that hasn't gone right for us. It's pretty self-explanatory. You have to be here living it and seeing it to believe it. It's been difficult to explain to you all. I apologize if I've been a little short lately, but this is not easy."
It was the third time this season an Orioles closer squandered a one-run lead in the ninth inning. "It hurts because we haven't stopped the bleeding yet," said Johnson, who allowed a leadoff single to Adam Rosales in the ninth, got an out on a sacrifice bunt, threw two wild pitches and then allowed the hit to Sweeney on a 3-2 count. "We were set up pretty nicely to do it today, and like I said, I just didn't get the job done."
And in continuing the theme of the season, the Orioles lost a game and perhaps another player for a couple of days. Third baseman Miguel Tejada suffered a groin strain while running to first base on a bunt single in the top of the sixth.
Tejada thinks he'll be out for only a couple of days, but his injury added to the misery of the day.
"It's really upsetting right now with what's happening to us because we are all trying to win a game and play good baseball and everything is against us right now," Tejada said. "You saw what happened in the ninth — the ball just hit the right spot and went out. I think everything is against us right now."
The afternoon started with a players-only meeting in the visiting clubhouse at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes; Trembley and his staff sat in the dugout while several veterans addressed the team.
"I think it was good timing," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who said that "hands down" this has been the most difficult stretch since he's been on the club. "We just needed to get together, talk over things and try to get things going."
Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who went unrewarded for another quality outing, said the theme of the meeting was to look forward.
"Today, we thought we could start our new season," said Guthrie who allowed six hits and one earned run over 62/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.15. "And I still think it's an approach we need to take each day, is forget what the record is currently and you go forward. I think overall, the product we've seen out there on the field is much more consistent and a much better quality than we've had recently.
"We can't get any of those games back we already played, so the best thing we can do for ourselves is look forward."
After squandering scoring opportunities early against starter Justin Duchscherer, the Orioles finally got on the board in the sixth with the help of a bunt from Tejada, an error by A's first baseman Daric Barton and a two-out single by Garrett Atkins, who tied the game at 2. Before Atkins' hit, the Orioles were 1-for-41 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Ty Wigginton hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to give the Orioles a 3-2 lead, their first advantage in 37 innings. Trembley had three different pitchers get the three outs and hold the lead before handing the ball to Johnson in the ninth.
Rosales started with a leadoff single, Cliff Pennington bunted him up a base. Then Davis swung through an off-speed pitch for strike three, but it hit a cleat mark and caromed to the backstop. Another wild pitch put men on second and third with one out, prompting the Orioles to walk Barton intentionally.
That's when Sweeney delivered.
"That's our closer," Trembley said. "That's the guy that I have. You go to the best available guy. We just didn't make enough good pitches in the ninth to win the game."