O's crawl into break with 11-7 loss

Lowly Royals win series

37-48 Orioles have 3 days to lick first-half wounds

July 12, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles could have sprinted to the finish line that marked the ending of the season's first half, maybe breaking through the tape instead of becoming entangled in it.

They could have spent the next three days feeling better about themselves instead of recovering from the indignity of losing a series to the worst team in the American League.

They have one representative for tomorrow's All-Star Game, shortstop Miguel Tejada, and a clubhouse full of players who probably would rather lay low - at least to the level their team has sunk.

Mike Sweeney had four hits, including two home runs, and the Kansas City Royals unloaded on the Orioles in an 11-7 victory yesterday before 31,042 at Camden Yards.

A three-run homer by Javy Lopez in the eighth and two runs in the ninth made the score respectable, but didn't accomplish much more.

"You play 162 and see where you are at the end," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "If you're not positive the whole way, then you're going to be in trouble."

The loss put the Orioles 11 games below .500 again and a season-worst 17 1/2 games out of first place. It included a seventh inning in which the Royals sent 12 batters to the plate and scored six runs. It also dropped the Orioles' record against left-handers to 9-19, though that might be the least of their problems.

The next three nights will lead to wide-open debate on talk shows concerning manager Lee Mazzilli's job status. History says a change is unlikely given owner Peter Angelos' history of standing pat during the season, but the team's performance has made it an issue.

It has to get better.

"You can't throw in the towel right now," Mazzilli said. "We have a long way to go. My concern right now is getting everyone back healthy and let's just go from there."

The Orioles (37-48) haven't won a home series since sweeping Cleveland on May 7-9. The Royals hadn't won any series since June 22-24, but they took two games over the weekend behind Darrell May and Jimmy Gobble.

Couldn't it at least be Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder?

"You give up 17 hits," Mazzilli said, "chances are you're not going to win the ballgame."

Under Mike Hargrove, the Orioles were 41-50 at the break last year before finishing 71-91. Tired of being stuck in fourth place for six consecutive seasons, they are heading in the wrong direction.

"We'll just try to get away from it for a couple days, come back and start over again," Roberts said. "You try to put everything behind you and come back with a positive attitude and focus on what you need to do."

Like beating the teams that are in worse shape.

The Royals have lost 14 of their past 17 games, the three wins coming against the Orioles. They were shut out in three straight before arriving at Camden Yards.

Yesterday's effort left a sour taste in a few Orioles mouths.

"It does in mine," Mazzilli said. "I didn't like today's game. I didn't like the way it went."

Never given a lead, Rodrigo Lopez allowed five runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. He exited trailing 5-2 after a run-scoring double by David DeJesus with the count full. Angel Berroa had taken second after center fielder Luis Matos sailed a throw wide of home while trying to cut down Dee Brown.

"He just got a few pitches up where he should not have, and I think the heat got to him. He was a little tired," Mazzilli said.

Tempers began to flare in the seventh when Mike DeJean hit Matt Stairs on the right knee after six runs had scored and after Stairs homered off Buddy Groom earlier in the inning. Royals pitcher Rudy Seanez retaliated by throwing behind Jose Leon, causing the Orioles third baseman to glare at the reliever and plate umpire Ron Kulpa to warn both dugouts.

"That situation took care of itself," Mazzilli said "The warning ended it."

Mazzilli already was in a foul mood after Groom was called for a balk with one out that allowed the third run of the inning to score. Groom appeared to pick off Berroa, but first base umpire Bill Miller called the balk, saying Rafael Palmeiro was off the bag before the throw.

Asked if he'd ever seen that call, Palmeiro said, "Never." Neither had Mazzilli.

Waving his arms while pleading his case, Mazzilli was his most animated this season. But he still hasn't been ejected.

"It's not a balk," Mazzilli said. "I don't know what he's looking at."

Mazzilli would like to shield his eyes from a 20-26 home record, another in a growing list of concerns.

"That's why maybe this break is coming at a good time. We can regroup and get back," he said. "We need to find a way to get it done."

And perhaps string together enough wins to escape last place. The Orioles swept third-place Tampa Bay in last Monday's doubleheader, but lost four of their next five games. Positive steps lead to another stubbed toe.

"Just when you think you can get on a roll, then it stops," Mazzilli said. "I think that's the big thing, being consistent."

Mazzilli has three days to find an answer. Many of his players will head to the golf course, while others seek quality time with their families.

What will Mazzilli do during the break?

"Get this team back together for the second half."

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