The positives are scattered in front of Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who rummages through the mess to more clearly view the 2003 season. He pushes aside all the losses, the injuries, the innumerable disappointments.
It's a dirty job, much like being in charge of a fourth-place team, but how else to find the good stuff that's hidden? Sometimes, a gem teeters on top of the pile. A win over Mike Mussina qualified as one last night.
The Orioles batted around in the third inning while knocking Mussina from the game, and they reached the halfway point with a 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees before 36,023 at Camden Yards.
Facing his old team for the eighth time since bolting as a free agent in 2000, Mussina gave up eight hits in 2 2/3 innings and left with the Yankees trailing 5-0. It was his shortest outing since July 12, 2001, in Florida.
"It's tough knowing it wasn't my best effort," he said. "I've just got to let it go and get ready for my next start."
Rodrigo Lopez, making his fourth start since coming off the disabled list, held the Yankees to one run over 6 2/3 innings. Abused by the Toronto Blue Jays in his previous appearance - he gave up six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings - Lopez scattered 12 hits and lost his shutout with two outs in the seventh.
A five-game losing streak ended for the Orioles. So did Mussina's dominance over them, which included five wins in six decisions before last night.
The Orioles had five hits and two walks - one intentional - in the third before Joe Torre changed pitchers with Brian Roberts preparing to bat for the second time in the inning. Jeff Conine produced a run with a double into left-center field, and B.J. Surhoff grounded a two-run single by shortstop Derek Jeter.
A single by Deivi Cruz and walk to Geronimo Gil completed Mussina's 16th start of the season. He hadn't made such a hasty exit since going two innings against the Marlins in a 9-3 loss.
"That one inning," he said, "I just couldn't come up with a solution."
Last year, the Orioles were 39-42 at this point, wedged in the middle of their division and still able to flirt with a wild-card berth. Now, at 36-45, it's more of a long-distance affair. And those rarely work.
"Obviously right now we're not at the stage where we're a contending ballclub, but we're very competitive and give ourselves a chance to win," Hargrove said. "This team shows up to play no matter what happened the day before. There have been two or three times this year when it would have been a lot easier just to fold up the tent and go home, and they haven't done that."
Trying to get through the evening without a hitch, the Orioles were blindsided before the game. Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony, the third overall pick in the NBA draft last week, was supposed to throw out the first pitch but arrived too late.
Anthony saw more of the game than hitting coach Terry Crowley, who was tossed by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after the second inning. Crowley took exception to a strike call that ended a rally.
Gil was called out on a pitch that appeared to be low, stranding Tony Batista at third after his double gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Mussina (10-5) had thrown 23 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run against the Orioles before Batista's hit to right-center.
Batista delivered another run in the third on a ground ball down the third base line. Robin Ventura made a diving stop and threw out Batista from his knees as Luis Matos scored.
Roberts led off the inning with a single after extending his hitting streak to seven games with a double in the first inning. He also singled in the sixth and has reached base in 35 of 37 games since replacing Jerry Hairston.
Melvin Mora, starting for the second time since having a magnetic resonance imaging test on his right hand Monday, homered off Sterling Hitchcock in the fourth inning. And Matos, who singled in the third, has hit safely in 28 of 33 games since joining the Orioles on May 23.
"It's a real bright spot for the organization that you're seeing guys like Matos, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons starting to assert themselves. You need to have that," Hargrove said.
"Sidney [Ponson] doing what he's doing has certainly been one of the brightest spots, and the fact that Melvin Mora is having a tremendous year is another bright spot. There are a lot of positive things coming out of this."
Lopez (2-4) gave up three singles in the seventh, the last on a line drive by Ruben Sierra that deflected off his glove for an infield hit, allowing Karim Garcia to score. Garcia belted a two-run homer off Hector Carrasco in the eighth.
"I've been feeling really well physically," said Lopez, who threw 120 pitches. "I've been making adjustments outing by outing, trying to get my rhythm.
"I'm starting to get more confidence. Tonight was pretty much the way I used to work."
Same time last year
In the Orioles' 81st game last year, they lost to the Angels, 1-0. Here's where the Orioles stood:
Record Standing GA/GB
39-42 Third -12