OAKLAND, Calif. - Once bought out of bankruptcy, world champions three times and formerly the industry's blueprint for success, the Orioles officially trod virgin territory three time zones away at Network Associates Coliseum.
Scrambling to meet their critics' insulting spring prognostications, the Orioles tied together official elimination from the postseason with an unprecedented fourth consecutive losing season by dropping a 4-2 decision to the Oakland Athletics last night.
A two-run homer by A's third baseman Eric Chavez and starting pitcher Tim Hudson's five-inning run at perfection were enough to drop the Orioles to 55-82, their season low point.
The loss also dumped the Orioles 25 losses behind the A's, who have only 24 games remaining. With mathematical elimination also goes the possibility of making up a leftover game with the Texas Rangers lost to the Howard Street train derailment.
Hudson (16-7) allowed three hits over eight innings to beat Orioles rookie Josh Towers for the second time in six days. The Orioles were held to four runs or fewer for the 10th consecutive game and have been outscored 29-5 in their past four losses against the A's.
The Orioles are 51 games below .500 since winning the 1997 American League East. Their last loss dropped them 27 games below .500 for the first time this season.
Having lost nine of 10 and 11 of its past 13 games, a team with one winning week and the majors' worst record since the All-Star break (15-35) must finish at least 7-17 to avoid its first 100 loss-season since 1988.
Able to challenge the Seattle Mariners for three games, the Orioles can't escape an offensive black hole. They have managed only a .178 average (47-for-264) in their previous nine games.
By manager Mike Hargrove's definition, the Orioles aren't overmatched because they believe they have a chance to win every time they take the field. But by Webster's definition, his team has given every indication of being overwhelmed and, yes, overmatched. The Orioles' recent 1-8 homestand - the worst of nine games or more in franchise history - included four shutouts, 12 hits in a three-game series and only two home runs. The Orioles were outscored 51-11 and led in just three games.
Political correctness says the Orioles have encountered dominant pitching from postseason-bound teams without cleanup hitter David Segui, who remains sidelined by a knee injury. Reality says the past two months have underscored the paper-thin depth within an organization lean on position players. They have scored more than five runs in only 10 of 50 games since the All-Star break.
"The one thing I've been disappointed in this year is the inability of our young people to get on base more often," Hargrove said. "We haven't had the on-base percentages I would like this year. But that's something that comes with experience."
"I'm glad Syd Thrift was smart enough not to trade Jeff Conine," he added of his makeshift cleanup hitter who leads the team with 81 RBIs.
Segui's absence looms large.
"Everything changes. When I'm in there, you have guys hitting in certain spots. When I'm not able to be in there, it's not just one or two changes, it's a lot. That's a big difference," said Segui, who hopes to return to the lineup in Seattle on Friday.
Hudson dusted the Orioles and Towers, 4-1, last Wednesday. This time he strung them along for 14 consecutive outs before center fielder Melvin Mora dashed the suspense with a two-strike single to right field. Mora's hit ended Hudson's run of three consecutive strikeouts and was only the second fair ball to reach the outfield.
Lost amid the flailing was another sound pitching performance by a rookie right-hander.
The day after Rick Bauer took a 1-0 loss Sunday in his major-league debut for allowing the Mariners one run in 6 1/3 sterling innings. Towers (8-9) received the same fate for surrendering a two-run homer to Chavez, who has pummeled the Orioles the past week. Fed a high curveball that languished, Chavez crushed the pitch to right field for his 23rd home run.
Chavez's homer was his fourth in his past nine at-bats against the Orioles and second in four at-bats against Towers, who was burned for the first of Chavez's three last week at Camden Yards. Last night's home run gives him 10 RBIs in his last two games against the Orioles.
The A's padded Hudson's lead with a pair of runs with a two-out rally in the sixth. Terrence Long got a novel RBI when Jermaine Dye hustled home from second base on a ground ball that Jerry Hairston dove for and flipped wide to Towers covering at first. The pitcher's belated throw home was late.
Dominated by veterans and confused by rookies, the Orioles never found an opening against last season's Cy Young Award runner-up. Hudson leads the American League in ERA at night as well as innings pitched. Hudson's 47-15 career record includes a staggering 42-10 mark after April.
The Orioles pulled within two runs - and actually stirred the A's bullpen - with a two-run seventh inning that followed back-to-back doubles by Brian Roberts and Chris Richard.
Getting two runs or less of support for the third time in five starts wasn't lost on Towers, who finished June with a 6-2 record.
"I'm not going to lie. You definitely think about it," he said about the lack of Orioles runs. "But you've got to fight to find a way to win regardless of how many runs you've got. ... I gave up four runs. That's unsatisfactory."
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (10-10, 3.66) vs. Athletics' Barry Zito (11-8, 3.83)