ARLINGTON, Texas - The Orioles might not want a strike, but they sure look like they could use a break.
The losing streak reached six games last night, as the Orioles took an early six-run lead and squandered it with poor defense, poor pitching and an offense that went dormant after the third inning.
Ivan Rodriguez hit a sixth-inning grand slam, giving the Texas Rangers the lead and a 9-6 victory at The Ballpark in Arlington.
Late last night, the Orioles flew to Anaheim, Calif., still uncertain if there will be a strike or a game against the Angels. What was certain is that this has been a bad week.
"It's terribly frustrating because we're better than that," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "I don't know if it's because we're in one of those down cycles or because of the looming labor trouble, but we just didn't play well defensively tonight."
The Orioles (63-69), who reached .500 one week ago for the first time in 3 1/2 months, matched their longest losing streak of the season. They also lost six straight games after defeating the New York Yankees on Opening Day.
Making this stretch even more perplexing, the Orioles have had an early lead in all six games and blown it every time.
The Orioles went ahead 6-0 with an early flurry against Rangers starter Aaron Myette, then watched as the defense fell apart behind Travis Driskill.
Hargrove pulled Driskill with no outs in the fifth inning. Driskill was charged with five runs, four earned, on seven hits and four walks. He lost his two previous starts, and this marked the third straight game that he failed to finish six innings.
"It's real unfortunate that I was given a six-run lead and wasn't able to hold it," Driskill said. "But that's the way baseball goes sometimes. ... You can't give a team like that any extra opportunities because they will take advantage of it."
The Orioles have turned a major-league best 152 double plays, but this time their failure to turn two cost them twice. In both cases, an error was charged to second baseman Jerry Hairston.
But those weren't the only misplays.
"We made two errors and probably should have had four," Hargrove said. "We actually gave them five of the nine runs they scored. We were our own worst enemies tonight."
Mike Lamb led off the third inning with a walk, and then Michael Young hit a double down the third base line. Tony Batista, who hit his 27th homer in the first inning, tried to make a back-handed stop, but the sharp grounder bounced past him, into left field.
The Rangers' first run scored on a groundout by Todd Hollandsworth. With two outs, Young scored from third on a passed ball by Orioles catcher Geronimo Gil. With all the gains Gil has given the Orioles defensively this season, he leads the majors with 18 passed balls.
Texas scored two more in the fourth inning, trimming the Orioles' lead to 6-4. Carl Everett hit a one-out single, and then Herbert Perry grounded to shortstop Mike Bordick, who hesitated a bit before flipping to Hairston. In a rush, Hairston leaped into the air to avoid Everett's slide and fired the ball over first baseman Jeff Conine's head for an error.
Driskill walked home a run in the fourth, and Hargrove pulled him after the first two Rangers batters reached in the fifth. With one out and runners on first and second, Perry hit a grounder to Batista, who started a potential double play by throwing to Hairston. But Hairston threw another one past Conine, scoring Rafael Palmeiro.
One inning later, the Rangers took the lead, when Kevin Mench and Alex Rodriguez hit back-to-back singles. Orioles reliever Rick Bauer (6-6) walked Palmeiro intentionally to load the bases, and then Ivan Rodriguez hit his fifth career grand slam.
NOTES: Sidney Ponson pitched a three-inning simulated game without pain yesterday, remaining on course to be activated from the disabled list Sunday. Ponson has been on the disabled list since Aug. 9 with a slight tear of the labrum in his right shoulder. "I really don't think Sidney is at risk for injury," Hargrove said. "I think he's healthy, and with the stuff that I saw coming out of his hand, if he got any more healthy they'd have to invent a new league for him. Sidney has a special gift, and to his credit, he's working hard to master that."