Maybe it's true that a late April date is too early to panic. It is, however, the appropriate time for the Orioles to begin wondering.
How much worse can it get?
Reduced to giving Nerio Rodriguez his fourth major-league start and keeping their fingers crossed, the Orioles were handed another excruciating defeat last night. A late-inning rally fell short when a potential game-tying homer by Harold Baines with two outs in the ninth was taken away by left fielder Garret Anderson, resulting in a 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Angels before 41,877 at Camden Yards.
Anderson, who moved over from right to begin the ninth, leaped at the seven-foot fence and reached over to deny Baines his second homer of the night. "It's the damndest thing I ever saw," said manager Ray Miller. "If it wasn't for bad breaks, we wouldn't have any breaks at all."
Baines said he didn't think the ball was going out and had no interest in watching a replay. "It was a line drive. How can you assume a line drive will go out?" he said.
Anderson, who also robbed Chris Hoiles of an extra-base hit in the eighth, held up his glove with a wide smile after landing. "I just wanted to catch it and get out of there. I was more happy that we won the game. That was more of a sigh of relief," he said.
The only relief for the Orioles (13-12) came from the combination of Arthur Rhodes, Jesse Orosco and Armando Benitez, who shut out the Angels over the last three innings. Together, they couldn't prevent the club's 10th defeat in 13 games, and its fifth straight series loss -- the first time that has happened since 1995.
"We're going to get some good breaks, folks," Miller told reporters afterward. "Hang with us."
Winless since last August, Anaheim's Jason Dickson kept the damage to a minimum over 6 2/3 innings, the only run off him coming on Roberto Alomar's grounder in the fifth. It was typical of the Orioles' ineptitude whenever an opportunity arose to seize control.
Other than Baines' cashing in with a three-run homer off reliever Rick DeLucia in the eighth, the Orioles couldn't buy a timely hit, going 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. And they continued to resuscitate aging slugger Cecil Fielder, whose three-run blast off reliever Doug Johns in the fifth made him 6-for-18 with two homers and seven RBIs against the Orioles this year. He was hitting .185 with no homers before the Orioles traveled to Anaheim last week. That series also began the Angels' six-game winning streak.
The hope for the Orioles was that Rodriguez, two days removed from Triple-A Rochester, could provide a lift to a pitching staff dragging since ace Mike Mussina went on the disabled list almost two weeks ago. The expectation was they could unload some of their frustration on Dickson, who had been 0-3 with an 11.77 ERA.
The reality is the Orioles begin a two-game series in Chicago tonight with Sidney Ponson, who never had pitched above the Double-A level until this year, making his first major-league start.
How much worse can it get?
Baines did his part to make it better by connecting off DeLucia after Rafael Palmeiro had led off the eighth with a single and Cal Ripken walked on four pitches. Joe Carter lined a single off Mike James and Hoiles followed with a long drive to right field that Anderson ran down at the warning track, reaching for the ball with his back turned to the infield.
Mike Bordick walked, and both runners moved into scoring position when Alomar bounced to first. Collins went to his bullpen again, bringing in left-hander Mike Holtz, and it paid off when B. J. Surhoff grounded to second.
Eric Davis led off the ninth against closer Troy Percival with the Orioles' first triple of the season, the ball eluding Anderson at the fence. Davis had jumped ahead of Percival 1-0 without a pitch being thrown when home plate umpire Derryl Cousins ruled the right-hander used more than the allotted 12 seconds. Palmeiro then grounded to first, scoring Davis but not adding any juice to the rally.
"This is a great offensive team and they're going to break out of it," said Angels manager Terry Collins. "I'm just glad we're getting out of here before they do."
Called up Sunday when Scott Kamieniecki went on the DL, Rodriguez departed after 4 1/3 innings, his 83rd pitch being grounded into center field by Dave Hollins.
Johns entered with the Angels leading 3-0. Jim Edmonds greeted him with a single, and Fielder lined a three-run homer to left that completed Rodriguez's line and prolonged the Orioles' misery. Both of Fielder's homers this year have come off Johns.
"Nerio showed me a decent arm but he was ball one on everybody," Miller said.
Dickson, meanwhile stranded two runners in the first inning and breezed until the fourth, when Palmeiro walked with one out and Ripken reached on a high chopper to shortstop. Baines grounded to first on the next pitch from Dickson, and Carter lined out to left.