Beaten bunch of O's trudges back home

West Coast trip with contenders shows frustrated team that it's not ready yet

Angels 8 Orioles 4

September 07, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- The Orioles headed home last evening after a grueling road trip with more proof - if they needed it - about why they're simply playing out their schedule while many of their opponents are fighting for playoff spots.

They weren't consistently overmatched on this trip, where they lost seven of nine games - three by two runs or fewer and one in extra innings. Yet the reasons for where they sit in the standings were abundantly clear.

The Orioles struggle to get key hits on offense and their relievers struggle to get outs. Those factors, painfully obvious on the West Coast swing against two playoff contenders, arose again yesterday as the Los Angeles Angels completed a three-game sweep, pounding the Orioles' beleaguered bullpen in an 8-4 victory before 33,736 at Angel Field of Anaheim.

With the game tied at 4 after five innings, Chris Britton surrendered the go-ahead double to Chone Figgins in the sixth, and then Todd Williams and Jim Hoey pretty much ended any Orioles comeback hopes by allowing three insurance runs. The Orioles (61-78) are back to a season-high 17 games under .500.

"I don't like to lose," third baseman Melvin Mora said. "You get tired of the same [stuff]. What can we do? We can keep fighting until the end of the season and we'll see what we are going to do next year."

Mora spoke in a visitor's clubhouse that was eerily quiet, aside from the sound of bulky bags being zipped up. The Orioles were ready to head home.

It not only was a group of tired Orioles. It was a group of frustrated ones, too. They'll get a one-day break before the first-place New York Yankees arrive at Camden Yards for a four-game series tomorrow night.

"It's hard," said shortstop Miguel Tejada. "We're trying as much as we can. We're playing a contending team. Those teams we're playing are trying to fight for the playoffs."

Second baseman Brian Roberts tried to jump-start the Orioles with two home runs, his first multi-homer game of his career, but even that wasn't enough.

"It's a struggle right now," said Roberts, who hit homers in his first two at-bats and has nine for the season. "It's not a lot of fun. We're just going to have to keep plugging, keep battling and find a way to win down the stretch a little bit more than we have. ...

"There's no doubt it's frustrating. Nobody likes to lose, especially late in the season when you're battling and you're tired mentally and tired physically. When it seems like nothing goes right, it makes it harder."

In a 10-inning, 5-, loss to the Angels on Tuesday night, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo saw some signs that his team, particularly some of his veteran leaders, was pressing and taking on too much of a burden.

He called in the club's normal starting infield - Ramon Hernandez, Kevin Millar, Roberts, Tejada and Mora - for a brief meeting before yesterday's game. He told the group to keep the team's energy up and to "lead through the tough times."

Then, Roberts went out and lined Angels starter Ervin Santana's first ptich into the right-field seats. The Angels answered with a second-inning, bases-empty homer by Howie Kendrick off Daniel Cabrera, who allowed four runs in five innings. Every time the Orioles appeared ready to take hold of the game, the Angels regained control.

"We've played good ball," Mora said. "I think we showed them we're close to beating them. Our pitchers throw good, we scored runs. Maybe their bullpen is better than ours, I don't know. It's something, though."

After Millar tied the game at 3 with a bases-empty homer in the fourth, Mora gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead with an RBI single in the fifth, but he was stranded at third when Tejada struck out to end the inning.

The at-bat represented a duel between two players who were nearly traded for each other before the July 31 waiver deadline. Santana, a wiry 23-year-old right-hander, was a player the Orioles wanted in any deal involving their star shortstop.

That probably won't change if the teams rekindle trade talks in the offseason, which could happen. The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday that the Angels remain interested in Tejada.

"He's a pretty good pitcher," Perlozzo said. "He battles and makes a key pitch when he needs to. He's got a good breaking ball and doesn't give in to the hitter."

Santana, who is 4-4 with a 5.54 ERA since the All-Star break, wasn't overly sharp, but he did minimize damage. All three home runs he gave up were bases-empty shots.

"When nobody is on base, that's good," Santana said. "When somebody is on base, I get [ticked] off."

Cabrera, meanwhile, went deep into counts too often, throwing 108 pitches. That meant an early entrance for the Orioles' bullpen, which again spelled trouble. Britton, recalled Monday from Double-A Bowie, allowed a leadoff double to Mike Napoli in the sixth and then the go-ahead double to Figgins, who had been in a 4-for-44 skid.

"We could use the day off. There's no question," Perlozzo said. "Let the guys regroup a little bit."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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