As if playing baseball at its highest level isn't enough of a challenge for the Orioles, they must do it with legs pumping, no matter how tired they become in the dog days of August. All the better to outrun their recent past.
Unfortunately, it appears to be gaining on them again.
The Orioles lost their fourth consecutive game last night, with Josh Towers exacting a little more revenge against his former team and Chris Woodward punctuating the rout with his first career grand slam, and first home run this season, in the Toronto Blue Jays' 14-4 victory before 35,024 at steamy Camden Yards.
They have every reason to wonder how much worse it can get.
Towers beat them for the second time in a week, allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings, as the Blue Jays ended a four-game slide and improved to 20-43 on the road. The Orioles got home runs from Javy Lopez, David Newhan and Melvin Mora, and still lost by a wide margin.
"It gets frustrating," Newhan said. "You're going to lose games over the course of a season, but you want to continue playing good baseball. You want to at least make the other team beat you."
The Blue Jays didn't have any trouble doing it last night. Can a last-place team stir up trouble again?
A year ago, Tampa Bay swept the Orioles after they had gotten within two games of .500, pretty much assuring that Mike Hargrove wouldn't return as manager in 2004.
The Orioles were 57-59 when the season started to go bad, just as they were after 116 games this year. Rodrigo Lopez and B.J. Ryan were charged with losses the next two nights, and the same thing happened against Oakland this week.
Now the Blue Jays show up, their season long ago in tatters, and they hang another defeat on the Orioles (57-63). The standings all of a sudden mean nothing. History seems to mean everything.
"You can't even think about that," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "When we have guys who are healthy and can play, we'll be OK."
The momentum that came with an eight-game winning streak, and a successful road trip before returning home, has turned to dust. Try not to breathe too deeply.
At least the Athletics have one of baseball's top rotations, and a half game lead in the American League West. The Orioles' task last night was to treat that sweep as an aberration, and not a sign that the team was getting caught in another downward spiral.
"That happens in baseball," said shortstop Miguel Tejada. "Now we have to go hard again and play better baseball. There are a lot of games left in the season. [The sweep] is over. Today, another series started and that's all we're thinking about."
Another series, and the injuries to Jerry Hairston and Larry Bigbie that prevent them from appearing in it.
"The real downside of that series," Mazzilli said, "is we lost two everyday players again."
Lopez returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday's game with back stiffness, and he broke up Towers' shutout bid in the fifth with a home run that reduced the deficit to 5-1. The Jays were ahead 9-1 in the seventh before Newhan and Mora went deep on consecutive pitches.
Perhaps more memorable for the Orioles was the run they lost in the fifth when Eric Hinske tagged out Brian Roberts at third base before Karim Garcia crossed the plate. And the run Toronto scored in the seventh when Orlando Hudson, who held up on a single to right that loaded the bases, raced home as the throw sailed to third.
Hinske later hit a three-run homer off Buddy Groom, the ball traveling an estimated 426 feet, after Roberts misplayed a potential double-play ball.
"You wish you could put a finger on it and say, `Hey, this is what it is.' You see guys going out with the same effort and intensity," Newhan said.
Any game against the Blue Jays provides a reunion setting of former Orioles. All that's missing is an open bar and a bad cover band.
Besides Towers, who's 17-5 since leaving the Orioles, the Blue Jays had catcher Gregg Zaun in the starting lineup and relievers Kerry Ligtenberg and Sean Douglass in the bullpen. The group would have been bigger except that catcher Greg Myers went on the disabled list, utility player Howie Clark returned to the minors and pitcher Pat Hentgen retired.
The Blue Jays gave Towers a 2-0 lead before he stepped out of the dugout.
The first two batters singled against Dave Borkowski (3-4), and Vernon Wells sent a slow roller about seven feet up the third base line. Lopez fielded it, considered a lunging tag of Alexis Rios, who was sprinting home, then decided to take the sure out at first.
With the infield shifted to the right, putting Tejada behind second base, Carlos Delgado grounded a single through the area vacated by the Orioles shortstop to give the Blue Jays their second run.
"I'm putting these guys in a hole right away," said Borkowski, who allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings. "You can't keep doing that."
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 4:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Dave Bush (1-3, 3.59) vs. Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (9-5, 4.14)