Falling off O's bandwagon? I can't rescue you this time

August 30, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

During the early months of the 2007 baseball season, I took it upon myself - on a number of occasions - to talk Orioles fans off the proverbial ledge as the club floundered for the 10th straight season.

Now, I'm standing on it myself.

The team that was supposedly turning a corner has turned south again, this time in such dramatic fashion that I could have sworn I heard Jim Hunter's voice crack during that 11-run eighth inning in Tuesday night's 15-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Things have gotten so bad that the big media question going around the clubhouse afterward was which game was worse, that one or the 30-3 fiasco against the Texas Rangers that sent the Orioles into their current spiral.

Obviously, the epic loss to the Rangers was worse, because it rained on Dave Trembley's new contract extension and transformed the Orioles from a local embarrassment to a national one. It's not often that you can play your way into David Letterman's monologue, but maybe the O's can take some consolation in the fact that they managed to be both historically bad and hysterically bad on the same night.

"Did you hear about this?" Letterman quipped. "The Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3. The Orioles were actually ahead 3-0, but then they made the mistake of putting up a `Mission Accomplished' banner."

Of course, most teams would have been content to accept the worst beating since the Victorian era, but not the Orioles. They waited only six days (which is hardly a respectable period) to tie a 45-year-old club record by giving up those 11 eighth-inning runs to the Devil Rays on Tuesday.

It has taken barely a week to obscure the two months of apparent progress that persuaded new club president Andy MacPhail to take the interim tag off Trembley. The timing is probably coincidental, but it seemed like somebody let the air out of the team right after Trembley's emotional news conference.

That's too bad, because he clearly did change the culture in the clubhouse - and on the field - after he took over the team in June. The Orioles were more focused and disciplined, as evidenced by their respectable 29-25 record under Trembley up to the day his contract was guaranteed through next season, though the past week has left room to wonder how much has really changed since the club fired Sam Perlozzo.

What I'm wondering is how this is going to play in November, when the Orioles go out looking for help in the free-agent market.

At midseason they could make the case that the team finally was moving in the right direction, because it was. Erik Bedard had emerged as a bona fide No. 1 starter and the prospect of a healthy Adam Loewen and a more experienced Jeremy Guthrie made the outlook for 2008 relatively bright.

There still was room to tweak the bullpen, but nobody imagined the train wreck it would soon become.

During those sweet days of self-delusion, I thought the Orioles might get back in business if they could persuade a Torii Hunter and another solid run-producer to accept some inflated MASN money to shore up the heart of the batting order. Then came the 11th-hour signing of top draft choice Matt Wieters and some light even appeared on the long-range horizon.

Now, you can make a case that the humbling events of the past week may have re-energized the reluctance of quality free agents to come to Baltimore, which would leave the Orioles' front office in the same predicament it faced a year ago. The offensive players who could help turn things around will either go elsewhere or price themselves out of the Orioles' budget, leaving little to do but reconfigure the bullpen for the second winter in a row and market the team around the promising rotation.

Unfortunately, while you're waiting for the next promotional campaign, you'll have to settle for a familiar refrain:

One step forward.

Two steps back.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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