DETROIT - From a distance, the Orioles must have wondered how bad things were for the Detroit Tigers this season, seeing the losses mount, seeing the comparisons being drawn to their own horrendous start back in 1988.
Last night, the Orioles got a firsthand look at the wreckage in an 11-3 victory over the Tigers at mostly barren Comerica Park, and it wasn't pretty.
The Tigers fielded a lineup with five consecutive hitters batting below .190.
Their leadoff hitter was making his 2003 debut. Their starting pitcher had never been above Single-A before this season.
The Orioles got five shutout innings from Jason Johnson before he had to leave because of a recurring blister and cruised to their 11th win in 16 games.
The loss dropped the Tigers to 3-21.
"They're just having a rough year," Johnson said. "Hopefully it'll get better for them. Not against us, but hopefully they'll come out of it."
Perhaps better than any other team, the Orioles can empathize with the Tigers over a disastrous start that has historians dusting off references to the 1962 New York Mets and 1899 Cleveland Spiders.
But the empathy can wait. The Orioles play five more games against the Tigers in the next eight days, and after that they won't see Alan Trammell's bunch again all season.
Convinced that all teams wake up eventually, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove and his coaches pulled some players aside in recent days, trying to prevent an engine collapse in the Motor City.
"The Tigers are still a major league club," Hargrove said, overlooking Detroit's .125 winning percentage and .182 batting average. "A team that's gotten off to the start they've had, they're due."
For one night, at least, the scare tactics worked. Jerry Hairston paced the Orioles' 13-hit attack with three hits, one walk, three runs and two RBIs.
B.J. Surhoff, Jeff Conine, Melvin Mora and Brook Fordyce added two hits apiece.
With the win, the Orioles improved to 13-12. Tonight, they'll try to move two games over .500 for the first time since May 5, 2000.
The Orioles are proof that teams can quickly right themselves after disaster.
They finished last season with a 4-32 collapse.
"You know the frustration," Hargrove said. "You scratch your head trying to think of everything in the world to get it turned around. A lot of times with things like this you just have to let them run their course, and hopefully they'll change. It's a difficult situation."
The 1988 Orioles opened the season with 21 consecutive losses. After 24 games, that team was 1-23. At season's end, it was 54-107.
As sorry as that was, it paled in comparison to the 1899 Spiders, who went 20-134, and the 1962 Mets, who went 40-120.
Once again last night, the Tigers looked like a team that could threaten those marks of futility. None of the hitters in their starting lineup had an average above .225. Last night, Dmitri Young raised his team-leading home run total to three.
Their starting pitcher, Jeremy Bonderman (1-4) allowed five runs, four earned, in 5 2/3 innings, leaving his ERA at 6.58. And he's not struggling as bad as tomorrow's starting pitcher, Mike Maroth, who is 0-6.
Detroit's fan base is not amused. The paid attendance last night was 10,829, but in only its fourth season, Comerica Park looked as deserted as Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
The boos started when Hairston led off the game with an opposite-field double.
The Orioles led 2-0 after the first and 4-0 after the second.
Johnson retired the first seven batters he faced and held the Tigers to four hits in his five innings. He had to leave after the fifth with the Orioles leading 5-0 because the blister on his right middle finger acted up.
He threw 79 pitches, 52 for strikes, making it look easy as he rose to 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA.
"It looks a lot better than it did after my last start," Johnson said of his finger. "I'm hoping this is the last start I'm going to have to come out early because of the blister."
Things really turned ugly in the seventh inning, when the Orioles scored six runs, with five of them charged to Tigers reliever Matt Roney.
In a play that seemed to symbolize Detroit's ineptitude, first baseman Carlos Pena muffed a pop-up from Tony Batista in front of home plate. With runners on first and second, Batista hit the ball straight in the air. Pena came running in, collided with Roney, and then made a hapless reach for the ball.
Surhoff's three-run double made it 11-0.
"This one bothers me," said Trammell, the first-year manager who called his first post-game meeting. "When we're sloppy and looking a little flat that bothers me."
Site:Comerica Park, Detroit
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters:Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (0-3, 7.31) vs. Tigers' Nate Cornejo (1-2, 3.54)