It just keeps getting worse, which is no easy trick when you consider how badly things have been going for the Baltimore Orioles the past few weeks.
The Oakland Athletics hammered Jose Mesa and three other Orioles pitchers last night on the way to an 11-5 victory in the rubber game of a three-game series at Memorial Stadium.
Mesa, who came into the game 11th in the American League ERA rankings (2.83), lasted 1 1/3 innings and gave up five runs on one hit and five walks as his team sank deeper into the AL East cellar.
The Orioles have won just eight of their past 25 games to drop nine games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. No team in the major leagues is farther off the pace and only one team -- the San Francisco Giants -- has a lower winning percentage.
It's early, but it's also ugly. Every day seems to move the club a day farther from a chance to recover from the third-worst start in team history.
The off-the-field news hasn't been too promising, either. The latest medical report on first baseman Glenn Davis doesn't include any timetable for his return to the lineup. The latest word from pitching ace Ben McDonald is that his elbow is hurting again.
Still, the Orioles had a chance to win their first home series of the year. Then the game started.
Mesa (4-4) has been the most dependable pitcher in the starting rotation, but on this night, he simply forgot how to throw strikes.
In a matter of minutes, he watched his ERA go from 2.83 to 3.67.
"I didn't see anything wrong with him," manager Frank Robinson said. "I just saw that he wasn't getting the ball over the plate. I don't know what it was, but he just didn't have any location at all."
Mesa walked two of the first three batters he faced before Harold Baines clubbed a three-run home run to begin the early-inning onslaught.
Mesa threw 49 pitches (and only 21 strikes) before Robinson could not take any more, but there was no relief in sight.
Right-hander Bob Milacki, who has been kept around for just this kind of occasion, came on to give up four hits and a sacrifice fly before getting the final out of the second inning. Not one of the four singles was hit solidly, but the A's were happy to settle for a seven-run lead after 1 1/2 innings.
The Orioles were just happy to see Baines leave town. The first-inning home run was his fourth homer of the year against Baltimore pitching, the other three coming in one game at the Oakland Coliseum last week. He also had two singles and is 11-for-16 with 11 RBI in the first five games of the season series.
"He's just a good hitter, period," Robinson said. "He's going to hit you well. But I don't think we've made too many good pitches to him this year. The home run definitely wasn't a good pitch."
The first inning was a one-shot deal. The second inning was slow and painful.
Mesa walked the first two batters and went 1-0 on Dave Henderson before giving way to Milacki, who was a victim of circumstances if ever there was one. Henderson poked a ground-ball single through the infield for a run and Jose Canseco brought home another with a sacrifice fly. Baines followed with a cue shot through the left side, and Mark McGwire dropped a pop-up in front of Joe Orsulak in right for two more runs.
L The A's were killing him softly, but a blowout is a blowout.
"That's about the size of it," Robinson said. "In a lot of cases, we've played ourselves out of the ballgame before we had a chance to win the ballgame. You can't play baseball like that, trying to come back for five runs every night."
Nevertheless, the Orioles have shown surprising resilience of late, and rallied for three runs when Oakland rookie Kirk Dressendorfer struggled with his control in the fourth.
Orsulak doubled down the left-field line with one out and Randy Milligan walked before Jeff McKnight pulled a run-scoring double into the right field corner. One out later, Ernie Whitt lined a two-run double into left center for his first RBI as a member of the Orioles.
Dressendorfer was not long for the game. He got the final out of the fourth, but had to turn the game over to reliever Joe Klink after Mike Devereaux opened the fifth with a double.
It was a tough outing for the A's rookie, who would have improved to 4-2 if he had been able to get through the fifth inning. Instead, Klink inherited a four-run lead and needed only to pitch decently to get the victory.
Milacki settled down after the rocky second and shut out the A's through the sixth, but the two runs he was charged with in the second inning were enough to raise his ERA from 0.79 to 1.69.
Athletics first: R.Henderson walked. R.Henderson stole second. D.Henderson flied out to center. Canseco walked. Baines homered to center, R.Henderson, Canseco and Baines scored. McGwire walked. Riles flied out to center. Steinbach flied out to right. Athletics 3, Orioles 0.