How low can they go?

Orioles don't simply lose, but invent ways to look bad

September 03, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

When the Orioles were no-hit by Clay Buchholz on Saturday night, it was the first time since 1991 that a pitcher had thrown a no-hitter in one of his first two major league starts.

Of course, when Wilson Alvarez did it 16 years ago, it was against the Orioles, too, leaving just one pitcher (Bobo Holloman) since 1900 to have turned that particular trick against anyone else.

I bring this up only because we seem to be throwing around a lot of old dates these days, which speaks to the historic nature of this particular Orioles slump ... which started when they became the first major league team in the modern era (post-1900) to give up 30 runs in a game.

Give them credit for one thing. When it comes to being really, really bad, the Orioles are remarkably good.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not taking anything away from the young Boston Red Sox pitcher who became an instant SportsCenter sensation when that last nasty curveball froze Nick Markakis so completely he finally made good on those comparisons to Ted Williams.

Buchholz pitched masterfully. He located his fastball early and displayed a scary changeup that had the Orioles so out in front they must have thought they were headed to the playoffs.

The most impressive thing, however, was his composure in that ninth inning, when he had to face two of the best on-base threats in the lineup (Brian Roberts and Markakis) and the guy (Corey Patterson) who had come close to breaking up the no-hit bid in a couple of previous at-bats.

Every time Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek called for a key pitch, Buchholz was able to hit the glove, which is saying quite a lot about a young man whose only other major league start was two weeks earlier.

Still, it also says quite a bit about the Orioles, though the events of the past two weeks didn't exactly make a no-hitter an upset of the magnitude of Appalachian State vs. Michigan.

This is, after all, the team that celebrated manager Dave Trembley's contract extension with a nine-game losing streak that opened with that 30-3 fiasco against the Texas Rangers.

The last time anybody had scored 30 runs in a major league game was in 1897, so long ago that if Sidney Ponson were alive then, he would have had to settle for galloping under the influence.

It didn't stop there. Just six days later, the Orioles' bullpen gave up 11 runs in one inning to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to tie a club record for the worst inning ever, which was set a mere 45 years ago.

The last-place Devil Rays went on to sweep the three-game series at Camden Yards, which was thought to have satisfied any dictionary definition of the term "rock bottom" until the no-hitter Saturday night.

Even when they win, you can't help wondering how low things can go. The 9-8 victory over the Red Sox on Friday night should have been uplifting, except that the Orioles were leading that game by six runs as late as the seventh inning and came within one hit of another loss that would have ranked among the franchise's all-time worst.

The no-hitter only registers in that regard because of its historic significance. The game itself was relatively painless because it was a blowout tempered by an additional level of intrigue. The loss notwithstanding, the game eventually transcended team loyalties - to the point where I'm guessing there were plenty of Orioles fans rooting for the kid at the end.

I know my heart swelled watching that kid being mobbed by his teammates. It was sports entertainment at its best, even if it happened at the expense of a team that already has been humbled enough.

The Orioles aren't without a certain twisted entertainment value of their own. I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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