It could have been billed as Underachievement Night at Memorial Stadium, where two last-place teams with much greater expectations faced each other in the opener of a three-game series.
The Baltimore Orioles held up their end, falling hard, 11-0, to the ,, struggling Kansas City Royals on a soggy night when the rain came a couple of innings too late to be of any assistance to the home team.
Starter Jose Mesa lasted just 2 1/3 innings on the way to his fourth consecutive loss. Royals right-hander Mark Gubicza pitched six innings before a 77-minute rain delay forced him out of the game, but he got credit for his second victory in five decisions and his club went on to end a three-game losing streak.
It was the third straight loss for the Orioles, who had shown such promise in the first two games of the four-game weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays. But after closing to within 7 1/2 games of first place -- a manageable deficit at this point in the season -- they are flirting with double digits again and nestling deeper into the American League East cellar.
"You just keep trudging along until things come together," Orioles manager John Oates said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy. All teams go through what we went through tonight. We just have to come back tomorrow hoping that Bobby [Milacki] is wearing his 'A' game and we can get a couple of knocks early."
Frank Robinson, attending a game for the first time since accepting a job in the Orioles front office, must have thought he was in a time warp. The Orioles were down by seven runs by the middle of the third inning. They managed four singles off Gubicza through six. There was a costly error and a missed cutoff throw. In short, it seemed like old times.
The Royals rolled up 16 hits, seven of them during a six-ru bat-around that broke the game open in the third inning. The Orioles managed seven hits -- all singles -- against Gubicza and relief pitcher Steve Crawford.
The loss dropped the Orioles 15 games below .500 (20-35) for the first time this season.
Mesa, who was the Orioles' most consistent pitcher through the first four weeks of the season, slipped deeper into a monthlong slump in which his ERA has risen from 2.23 to 4.60 in the space of six starts.
Oates admitted to being a little puzzled by Mesa's recent struggles.
"Inconsistency is the one word I can put on it right now," Oates said. "Some nights he gives up hits. Some nights he gets behind hitters and walks guys. It's not one thing. It seems like it's something different every night."
Mesa retired the first four batters he faced last night, but his
performance deteriorated in a hurry, and the Orioles went right ,, down with him.
The Royals scored an unearned run in the second, after back-to-back one-out singles by Mike Macfarlane and Kevin Seitzer that had put runners at first and third. Carmelo Martinez hit a shallow fly ball to right that was not deep enough to bring home the run, but Joe Orsulak's throw to the plate skipped past Bob Melvin for an error, allowing Macfarlane to jog home.
Mesa didn't need any more help letting the game get away. He gave up a leadoff home run to No. 9 hitter Terry Shumpert in the third and went on to surrender four more runs before Oates called Mike Flanagan out of the bullpen.
Kirk Gibson lined a one-out double to right-center, and George Brett followed with an RBI double into the left-field corner. Jim Eisenreich added a single, and Macfarlane lined a ball off Mesa to bring home another run.
That was it for Mesa, but not for the Royals. Flanagan came on to load the bases with a walk to Seitzer and gave up a three-run double to Martinez. Kansas City went on to bat around, the second time in three games that the Orioles have fallen victim to a six-run inning.
Gubicza didn't mind the cushion. He used to be one of the most overpowering right-handers in the American League, but he is working his way back from a 1990 rotator-cuff operation.
His comeback is coming along nicely, even if he has only a 2-3 record to show for his first six starts.
Mesa hasn't won since May 11, when he gave up five runs and eight hits over 7 1/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners. Since then, he is 0-4 with a 7.53 ERA.
Strangely enough, he has slumped at the same time the rest of the rotation has begun to turn things around. The day he started the four-game losing streak, the other Orioles starters were a combined 6-13. Since then, the rest of the rotation is a combined 7-7.