The meltdown and the misfortune persisted yesterday for the beleaguered Orioles.
An overworked bullpen twice failed to protect two-run leads when Daniel Cabrera became the second starter in three games to depart early after being struck on the pitching hand by a line drive and the Chicago White Sox rallied for a 9-6 victory before 40,100 at Camden Yards.
Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli was forced to use starter Bruce Chen in relief in the middle innings and then the White Sox tagged young Chris Ray for back-to-back homers and four eighth-inning runs to deal the Orioles their 12th defeat in the past 14 games.
The Orioles remain in fourth place in the American League East, seven games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, who beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-2, last night.
Meanwhile, the White Sox improved their major league-best record to 67-35 and their road record, also tops in baseball, to 34-16.
Unable to capitalize on a shaky outing by Chicago's Jose Contreras, the Orioles fell below .500 (51-52) for the first time since April 9, when they were 2-3.
As Sidney Ponson had done two days earlier, Cabrera instinctively reacted to a wicked line drive through the box in the second inning - this one hit by Joe Crede. The ball struck Cabrera on the back of the right hand and, like Ponson, he couldn't continue.
"I think it's going to be all right for my next start," said Cabrera, who was told he has a bruise after X-rays were negative. "I didn't feel my hand when the ball hit me. I was trying to defend myself. I'll come tomorrow and throw, and if I can, I'll be ready for the next one."
Said Mazzilli: "Today would have been a good day to get deep in the game with the starter and something like that pops up. It's amazing. You come out two of three days and have to scrap for guys in the [bullpen]. They're giving you every last breath they have. They're pushing the limit. I can't ask for anything more."
"I think everybody's gassed out there but me," said reliever Steve Kline, who allowed the final White Sox run.
The primary victim was Ray, the promising right-hander who had been impressive before allowing a game-winning home run to the Texas Rangers' David Dellucci on Thursday and then surrendering consecutive homers yesterday to A.J. Pierzynski (with two runners aboard) and Jermaine Dye, the latter a 420-foot shot to center after Dye had appeared to strike out on the preceding pitch.
The homers enabled the White Sox to erase a 6-4 deficit and rescue the struggling Contreras, who "was just cramping up" after undergoing two trying innings, according to Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.
Four Chicago relievers combined to blank the Orioles the final three innings, with Dustin Hermanson working the ninth for his 24th save.
The Orioles showed signs of pop against Contreras, with Brian Roberts hitting a two-run double, newcomer Eric Byrnes getting a run-scoring double and Rafael Palmeiro contributing his 569th career home run with Miguel Tejada on base after a walk.
But it wasn't enough to prevent the Orioles' fifth loss in six games on this homestand and the 17th loss this month.
"This is our downside," said Javy Lopez. "We have to keep our heads up because you're going to go through these once in a while. "We have to think we can still make it [to the playoffs] because we've still got two months to play. A lot of changes can happen. Maybe one game will change the chemistry. That's the one we're waiting for."
Jay Gibbons said the team "will be happy" when all the rumors stop flying after the trading deadline passes today.
"Maybe individual players are affected by that," he said. "We know we can win because we have the same team we had in April and May. I have no clue what's going on right now."
The Orioles have used 25 pitchers in the past five games, and the strain is beginning to tell, particularly when the relief corps must cover more than seven innings a game. And starters - Cabrera was in the bullpen Thursday night if needed - have to provide relief.
"What are you going to do, fold the tent?" Mazzilli asked. "We have to run through this. There are 60 games [actually 59] left, and you have to make the most of them."
Down go the O's
A look at the American League East standings since June 21, when the Orioles were a season-high 14 games over .500 and had a two-game lead:
..................................W L Pct.
New York 18 14 .562
Boston 18 15 .545
Toronto 17 15 .531
Tampa Bay 15 19 .441
Orioles 9 24 .273