SEATTLE - No matter how unsightly the Orioles' 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners appeared yesterday, it could have been much worse. First baseman Jeff Conine could have awakened with a migraine, the flu, or been summoned to serve on a grand jury.
If that had happened instead of Conine showing up for work to mash two singles and walk, baseball would be abuzz this morning over a perfect game rather than something as predictable as another Mariners win and the Orioles' latest calamity.
The 55-87 Orioles ended a winless West Coast road trip by suffering a combined two-hitter from ex-Orioles left-handers Jamie Moyer (17-5) and Arthur Rhodes, along with closer Kazu Sasaki.
An afternoon that began with Cal Ripken being honored by a sellout crowd of 45,344 at Safeco Field ended with the third baseman speaking to a hushed clubhouse during a post-game meeting called by manager Mike Hargrove. The 15-minute session was intended to provide perspective more than raise hell. Hargrove did so by asking players to scrutinize themselves. Ripken spoke briefly of 1988 and the need to persevere.
"You fight through it," said Ripken. "You don't want to give up. You don't want to roll over and hide. You've got to fight through it and find some value in it."
Hargrove reminded his team that value comes from within. With his impressionable team able to muster consecutive wins only three times since the All-Star break, the shock factor is real.
"You hope that everyone who is going out there is going to school and learning at the same time," Conine said.
Hargrove has never publicly criticized his team's focus. But yesterday he challenged the players during a meeting that served as part motivation, part gut-check.
"These are good people, and it's going to be a good ballclub. But as nasty and stinky as these spells are, every club that I've seen become good eventually has gone through these periods," Hargrove said.
The Orioles finished the road trip 0-6 as their losing run extended to a season-high eight games and left them with 14 losses in 15 games. Yesterday marked their fifth shutout loss in the span. They remain winless in Safeco Field's history and have lost 15 of their past 16 to the Mariners, who outscored them 46-17 while winning the season series 8-1. Yesterday's game completed the nine-game season series in which the Mariners' staff compiled a 1.46 ERA against the Orioles.
While the Orioles publicly urge calm, there is enough concern over a possible 100-loss season that vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift is examining all avenues to pick up a hitter. A waiver claim represents one possibility as the Orioles attempt to reverse a meltdown that has seen them score only 23 runs in their past 15 games.
Conine served as the sum of yesterday's offense. He singled in the second and fourth innings before walking in the seventh off Moyer, who has beaten the Orioles in 12 straight decisions since his only loss to them in May 1989. Conine stole second base in the third inning and was picked off first to end the fourth. The rest of Hargrove's lineup was a combined 0-for-26 without a walk.
"I've seen the other side, too, which is where we all want to be," said Conine, who earned a World Series ring with the 1997 Florida Marlins, then watched the team be sold off. "I look at it as I'm playing well and I'm helping someone else play a little better. I know the Orioles' tradition and resources. This will be an improved team next year."
Starting pitcher Josh Towers (8-10) was punished by a combination of zero offensive support and home runs by second baseman Bret Boone, designated hitter Edgar Martinez and catcher Dan Wilson. The Mariners took a 4-0 third-inning lead that was never challenged.
The Orioles batted .156 (29-for-186) on the road trip despite 13 hits in last Sunday's loss to the Oakland A's. They hit two home runs and scored 12 runs during their odyssey, which leaves them 32 games below .500 for the first time since their 107-loss season in 1988.
Ripken admitted similarities exist between this season and 13 years ago when the Orioles started the season 0-21. It is a concession a marketing-driven club has long resisted.
"It depends on how you get through it," Ripken said. "You recognize what it is. You find something inside of you that will help you the rest of your career. ... It doesn't do any good to dwell on it. Learn from it and apply it the next day."
Hitting a league-low .249 as a team - 23 points below last season's number - the Orioles have been held to five or fewer hits 10 times in their past 15 games, won only when their own staff threw a shutout, and have appeared increasingly listless, a byproduct of dominant pitching. Moyer is 8-0 in his past 11 starts and hasn't lost since July 13.