ARLINGTON, Texas - A losing streak can wrap itself around a team so tight, it barely leaves room for air to pass. It also can pretend to be weak and vulnerable, only to spring back to life, its white-knuckle grip just as strong.
The Orioles believed they might have killed one last night, taking a lead into the sixth inning with their starting pitcher in full control. But the tease hurt almost as much as the final outcome.
Don't bother sending flowers. The streak lives.
It reached 12 games after the Texas Rangers loaded the bases with none out in the seventh against B.J. Ryan, and Rod Barajas lifted a sacrifice fly to produce the go-ahead run in a 4-3 victory over the Orioles before 41,676 at Ameriquest Field.
Miguel Tejada hit a two-run homer off Kenny Rogers in the first inning to begin dimming the streak, but it's now tied for the third longest in club history.
Rodrigo Lopez couldn't hold a 3-2 lead, a bad-hop double beginning his downfall, and the Orioles' morale was tested a little more.
"My guys are battling," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "That's all I can ask for."
A few wins wouldn't hurt, either.
Rogers turned in one of his worst performances of the year in an Aug. 8 start against the Orioles (57-71), who battered him for eight runs in four innings. And he fell behind early last night.
Tejada ran the count full with two outs before unloading his 26th homer. He also raised his RBI total to 118, most in the majors.
It happened in an instant. Bat met ball, and ball disappeared into the left-field seats.
"Estimated distance, 393 feet," a Rangers official announced in the press box. "Estimated flight time, 1.2 seconds."
Just as quickly, a sense of relief probably swept over the Orioles. They still had a long way to go before dancing on the streak's grave, but at least their toes were tapping.
They held a lead. Maybe they could carry it off the field after the ninth.
It never got that far.
The Orioles were ahead 3-2 when Michael Young doubled with two outs in the sixth, the ball deflecting off Melvin Mora's glove as he tried to make a backhanded stop near the line. Hank Blalock walked and Severna Park native Mark Teixeira lined a single into right field.
"I should have blocked that ball and he just gets a single," Mora said. "Every opportunity they get, they make you pay."
The Rangers handed Ryan (3-5) his second loss in four nights, loading the bases on a double and two walks - one of them intentional to Gary Matthews. Barajas kept fouling off pitches before flying to left, and Laynce Nix raced home ahead of the throw.
The rally started when Nix walked. "I made good pitches," Ryan said. "I thought I put him away twice. I wouldn't change anything I did."
Players insist they are relaxed and confident, that the stack of defeats hasn't cast a shadow over them. They watched a movie in the clubhouse before the pre-game stretch - a comedy, which seemed appropriate since the month had been filled with enough drama. They played cards, told stories, laughed as if nothing was wrong.
"The chemistry of the team is still good, it's positive. We just ran into one of those funks," said Luis Lopez, who scored a run and drove in another, giving the Orioles a 3-1 lead in the third inning.
"There's no panic. Everybody's upbeat and ready to perform better. We know we can turn it around. At one point in August, we were 11-3. We can do it again. We've got the talent. We just need to put it together."
Why is it taking so long?
"It baffles me," said Brian Roberts, "and everybody else in here."
David Dellucci and Barajas homered in the first three innings, both times reducing the Orioles' lead to one run.
Lopez retired 10 in a row after Barajas took him deep. Jose Leon made a diving stop at first base and flipped to Lopez for the final out of the fifth inning.
"The whole game I felt in control," Lopez said, "even when I gave up the two home runs."
Leon, Robert Machado and Tim Raines Jr. comprised the bottom third of the order, and the lack of offense hurt the Orioles in the sixth.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, they got a one-out walk from Javy Lopez and single by Jay Gibbons. But Leon and Machado struck out.
"When guys are down, you've got to somehow contribute and be yourself," Mazzilli said. "They're trying to put the weight on their shoulders, which is human nature to do."
After closing out the series today, the Orioles head to St. Petersburg, Fla., for three games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Larry Bigbie will join them Wednesday after spending two days at Single-A Frederick on a rehab assignment.
Besieged with injuries to key players, the Orioles are starting to get healthy again.
If only the healing could have begun last night.
"It's like we're standing in quicksand," Rodrigo Lopez said. "We keep battling and battling, and we go down and down."
O's worst skids
The Orioles' 12-game losing streak is tied for third longest in club history.
Games Year (Dates)
21 1988 (April 4-28)
14 1954 (Aug. 11-25)
12* 1955 (June 18-July 3)
12 2002 (Sept. 18-29)
12 2004 (Aug. 16-28)
11 1958 (July 27-Aug. 8)
*-Includes tie game June 25 Note: The Orioles have had six losing streaks of 10 games, most recently in 2002 (Aug. 24- Sept. 3).