The Orioles can brag about their fast start and curse the many distractions that made focusing on baseball such an impossible task. They were early contenders and constant victims, heavyweights and punching bags in the same season. But they won't be remembered as a last-place team.
With victories so hard to come by, they'd be wise to embrace the small ones, no matter how hollow the feeling.
A loss last night by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays assured that the Orioles will finish in fourth place, one spot lower than 2004. It didn't matter that they lost to the New York Yankees, 8-4, before 36,821 at Camden Yards. Their placement in the standings was secured.
The Yankees remained one game ahead of the Boston Red Sox as the teams prepare to meet at Fenway Park in a series filled with playoff ramifications and raw emotion. Meanwhile, the Orioles (71-88) quietly packed the rest of their belongings and grabbed a charter to St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Devil Rays await them in a series of such little significance that Tropicana Field might be empty except for the dugouts.
"The games were on the schedule from the beginning of the year and we expect to play them," interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I'm sure if we don't go out and play, they'll hear it from me and we'll try to get that straight. I fully expect the team to go out and give 100 percent. We're not going to accept anything less."
Their final homestand left their fans cold, and not only from the falling temperature. They ended up 36-45 at Camden Yards, their fewest wins since 2002. "We have three more games to go," Miguel Tejada said, "and we'll keep playing until the last out."
Erik Bedard's final outing of the season also became his shortest. He was removed after the second inning with the Orioles trailing 5-0 and his pitch count at 63. Jason Giambi hit a monstrous three-run homer in the first, as the Yankees sent eight men to the plate.
Once the total reached 13 in the second, Bedard was gone. He allowed five hits, walked three and threw a wild pitch. "I thought for sure in the first inning he was overthrowing quite a bit," Perlozzo said. "He was wide open."
Bedard (6-8) posted one win after being activated from the disabled list, back on Aug. 9 vs. the Devil Rays. He was winless in his last 10 starts, though he surrendered three runs or fewer in four straight appearances before last night.
"I'm totally optimistic that Erik's going to be just as good next year coming out of the chute as he was this year," Perlozzo said.
Before injuring his left knee, Bedard was 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA. He won one of his last 15 starts.
"It's disappointing," he said. "I never could get back on track."
Becoming the first player this season to homer onto Eutaw Street, Giambi crushed a 3-2 fastball, a familiar count for Bedard, who threw many three-ball pitches.
"These guys are tough enough to get out when you get ahead of them," Perlozzo said. "When you get behind them, they're going to make you pay."
Aaron Small (10-0) limited the Orioles to a B.J. Surhoff single through six innings while continuing to pen an unlikely success story. He walked the bases loaded in the third after Surhoff was erased on a double play, but Melvin Mora struck out on a high fastball.
The strikeout began a stretch where Small retired 11 in a row before walking Jay Gibbons in the seventh and allowing a two-run homer to Javy Lopez. Three of the Orioles' four hits off Small came in the seventh.
Gibbons hit a two-run homer off Tanyon Sturtze in the eighth, but the Yankees moved a season-high 29 games above .500.
"We've had a tough time here lately, but I would like our fans to think that things are going to turn around for us. And I'd like for them to say good things about us next year," Perlozzo said. "That'll be our job this winter, to give them some reasons to believe that. I certainly do."
AL EAST W-L GB
New York 94-65 -
Boston 93-66 1
Yankees beat Orioles, 8-4, and Red Sox edged Blue Jays, 5-4. Longtime rivals will now meet in three-game series in Boston.
AL CENTRAL W-L GB
Chicago 96-63 -
Cleveland 93-66 3
White Sox clinched first division title since 2000 with 4-2 victory over Tigers.
AL WILD CARD W-L GB
Cleveland 93-66 -
Boston 93-66 -
Indians beat Devil Rays, 6-0, but fell out of AL Central race. Indians will host White Sox for three games to close season.
NL WILD CARD W-L GB
Houston 87-72 -
Philadelphia 85-74 2
Astros lost to Cubs, 3-2, missed chance to clinch tie for wild-card title. Phillies were idle.