If Orioles manager John Oates were restricted to a single word to describe Jose Mesa's recent ineffectiveness, it would be "inconsistent."
It was a month ago yesterday that Mesa last won. When he decisioned Seattle May 11, his record was 4-3 and he was giving every indication he would be one of the pitching staff's reliables.
In his last five starts, however, Mesa is winless. He has been branded with four losses, including the grotesque 11-0 number the Kansas City Royals pinned on the Orioles last night before 29,472 at Memorial Stadium. His record is 4-7.
"Just inconsistent on his part," Oates said. "One night it's hits. The next time he gets behind guys and gives up walks.
"Or he doesn't use all his pitches. It's something different every night."
Mesa surrendered five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings last night, leaving him with a 7.53 earned run average during his winless streak. It was only the second time in his 13 starts that he failed to reach the sixth inning.
Is this the same pitcher who recorded his first major-league complete game and shutout May 6 at California? It is, but he has lost his consistency in the interim.
In a game like this, there is plenty of blame to go around. It was the Orioles' third straight loss and the third time they've been shut out this season.
When it was mentioned to Oates that it looked like a combination of deficient offense, defense and pitching, he said, "And managing. This was a team effort. We didn't hit, we didn't pitch. Well, take that back. I thought [Mike] Flanagan pitched good after the first couple of batters. That was inactivity on his part. He hadn't pitched in five days, but once he got back in the swing of things, he threw good."
Flanagan came on in relief of Mesa in the third inning and had a hand in the Royals' six-run eruption during which 10 batters paraded to the plate. After that, Flanagan worked three scoreless innings.
"You try to find positive things to say," Oates said, unable to think of any. In an understatement, he added, "It wasn't our best game."
Rightfielder Joe Orsulak made a throwing error. Leftfielder David Segui overthrew the cutoff man. The Royals banged out 16 hits, but the Orioles were held to seven by starter Mark Gubicza, who went six innings, and successor Steve Crawford.
Mark it down as the Orioles' most lopsided shutout defeat since Milwaukee prevailed here, 12-0, April 4, 1988. It's the second time this year they've been as many as 15 games under .500, now at 20-35.
"We've lost three in a row before and we'll lose three in a row again," Oates said. "We're trudging along until we come together. All teams have nights like this."
This was a throwback to the way the Orioles were losing early in the season, giving up an obscene number of runs and dropping out of the game early. Under Oates, the Orioles were at least keeping it close.
"We won't start down, 11-0, tomorrow night," Oates said. "At 7:35, it'll be 0-0."
Even a rain delay of one hour and 17 minutes didn't cool off the Royals, who broke their losing streak at three. In the ninth, they pounded the Orioles' fifth pitcher, Paul Kilgus, for four runs, three scoring on Bill Pecota's home run.
It was this kind of night: Mike Macfarlane, a .250 hitter, had the first four-hit game of his career.
Gubicza, who underwent shoulder surgery last August and began this season on the disabled list, had only one win since last June 18. He's death on the Orioles, though, winning all four times in Baltimore.
"Maybe because he throws strikes," Randy Milligan said. "He's always around the plate."
"He didn't seem to pitch as well against us as he has in the past, or as hard as he did last year," Oates said. "But the bottom line is he had good results."
The one bright spot Oates was looking for may have been the spell Kevin Hickey casts over George Brett. Brett doubled in the third inning and singled in the fourth to pass Goose Goslin into 36th place on the all-time hit list with 2,736.
In the seventh, Hickey came on following the rain delay and assumed a 2-2 count on Brett, the AL's batting champion last year. His first pitch was high, but he got Brett swinging on the second.
That made Brett 0-for-12 against Mr. Hickey.
Glenn Davis, he of the injured neck nerve, was expected to face some soft pitching before last night's game, but the doctors called it off.
"They thought it best he continue his rehabilitation at the clinic under their supervision," Oates said. "He takes his shirt off so they can watch every movement, every muscle. They know I'm not going to watch his scapula to be sure it's in the right place."