The Orioles would love to put together the kind of 40-game run the Tampa Bay Devil Rays just experienced, but it's hard to see it happening at this rate.
One day, they sweep a doubleheader against Tampa Bay. The next day, they get shut out for eight innings against a former NBA forward.
Mark Hendrickson, a 6-foot-9 left-hander who was long seen as the type of inconsistent pitcher who would never allow the Devil Rays to pass the Orioles in the standings, was magnificent last night in Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory before 22,192 at Camden Yards.
Hendrickson (6-6) played four years in the NBA - for the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers - before concentrating on his baseball career.
After going 9-9 with a 5.51 ERA as a rookie last season, he was a big part of the reason Tampa Bay went on such a great run during June. He shed his inconsistent ways.
This time, he held the Orioles to six hits and one walk. Danys Baez gave up one run in the ninth but got Brian Roberts to foul out to third base with the bases loaded to earn his 17th save.
Rodrigo Lopez (6-5) turned in another strong start for the Orioles, giving up three runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. But that effort went to waste.
The Devil Rays scored one run in the third inning and two in the fourth and held on through a rocky ninth to break their three-game losing streak. Tampa Bay needs to win tonight to avoid losing its first series since May 28-30.
"That's a good game," Lopez said. "I'm pretty satisfied with what happened tonight."
The Orioles fell to 9-17 in games against left-handed starters, and Hendrickson seemed to feast on their fears.
Roberts and Javy Lopez both singled in the first inning, but with two outs Rafael Palmeiro came up with runners at first and third and flied out to center field off Hendrickson's first pitch.
After fouling out to the catcher in his second at-bat, Palmeiro came up again in a big spot in the sixth inning. Miguel Tejada and Lopez both singled with one out, bringing Palmeiro to the plate with one out.
But this time, Hendrickson threw a first-pitch strike and Palmeiro popped up to second with the second pitch. Luis Matos ended the inning with a grounder to second.
Manager Lee Mazzilli's lineup included five right-handed hitters, three switch-hitters and one left-handed hitter: Palmeiro. Coming into this season, Palmeiro had fared almost equally well against both right-handers (.294) and left-handers (.284) for his career.
But this year, there has been a noticeable drop against lefties. Palmeiro came in batting .281 against righties and just .165 against lefties. On Sunday - with the team facing Philadelphia left-hander Eric Milton - Mazzilli dropped Palmeiro behind Lopez in the batting order for the first time this season.
"Right now [Palmeiro's] struggling, and he knows that," Mazzilli said. "He's been through that before. He'll battle out of it."
But no one seemed to take the loss harder than Palmeiro.
He sat slumped in his chair facing his locker with a furrowed brow as a group of reporters approached him in the losing clubhouse.
"Honestly guys," Palmeiro said. "I don't know what to say anymore."
Palmeiro wasn't the only one responsible for the loss, but the game seemed to magnify a recent slump that has seen him hit .173 (17 for 98) in his past 26 games.
"When Raffy's not being Raffy, I think at times it changes a few things," Mazzilli said. "But it's a team. You can't put it anything on one guy. You can't do that."
Rodrigo Lopez has turned in solid performances in all three of his starts since coming back into the starting rotation, going 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA.
This time, the Devil Rays had at least one hit in each of the first five innings.
Lopez pitched out of a first-inning jam, and the Orioles turned a double play to end the second inning, with second baseman Jerry Hairston making a spectacular leaping throw to first.
Tampa Bay broke the scoreless tie in the third, as Geoff Blum hit a leadoff double down the first base line, and Rocco Baldelli singled him home with one out.
The Devil Rays made it 3-0 in the fourth, as the first three batters of the inning reached base. Julio Lugo singled, Fred McGriff walked and Toby Hall hit a run-scoring single through the hole between shortstop and third.
After a sacrifice bunt by Blum, Carl Crawford scored McGriff with a grounder.
"We've got to battle through it," Mazzilli said, after his 36-45 team fell back into a tie with Toronto for last place in the American League East. "We've just got to find a way to get it done."
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Devil Rays' Rob Bell (2-3, 5.23) vs. Orioles' John Parrish (5-2, 3.91)