Eight is more than enough

Familiar feeling arrives early for O's as Blue Jays blast Zambrano in record first inning

Blue Jays 8 Orioles 5

September 27, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

Even in this disaster of an Orioles season, it normally takes a couple innings, maybe half a game or more, before the evening's hope at Camden Yards disappears.

Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, it took one pitch.

Victor Zambrano's first fastball of the night plunked Blue Jays leadoff hitter Reed Johnson in the backside.

It was enough to start a Toronto rally that left the Orioles down eight runs before they came to bat in an eventual 8-5 loss.

And enough to give Orioles fans that here-we-go-again feeling in another here-we-go-again September.

When reliever Kurt Birkins recorded the Orioles' third out of the first - after the Blue Jays had sent 13 batters to the plate - patches of fans in the announced crowd of 15,424 stood and offered a mock ovation.

"It is what it is. You are down 8-0 in the first," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said. "When you've got to play behind the runners in the first inning, you know it is not a good sign."

Give the Orioles some credit: They eventually made an admirable run against former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay (16-7), who allowed five runs (three earned) in seven-plus innings. It was too little, too late given the hole that Zambrano dug.

The failed rally, though, is what Orioles manager Dave Trembley chose to focus on after the game - that his beleaguered bullpen threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings and that his offense scrapped together five runs and 11 hits against one of the American League's best pitchers.

"Tonight was an example of playing the game with pride and for pride because after the first inning, everybody could have cashed it in and didn't do that," Trembley said. "[We] really hung together as a team and had some quality at-bats."

Playing for pride is what has been left of this season for months. But even after an inauspicious start such as last night's, Trembley said he's not thinking, "Here we go again."

"I never think that. I don't take a negative approach," Trembley said. "I think that's sour grapes and less than professional. I say, `Let's minimize the damage, let's get our guys back in here to hit, and let's do what we can do to win the game.' That's what you saw tonight from the rest of the guys on the team."

It was the 26th loss in the past 35 games for the Orioles (67-91), and even before the nightmarish first inning, Trembley was lamenting how the season has gone. And what needs to change to reverse the trend of 10 straight losing seasons.

"It has not been OK. In the last nine years, it's not OK to lose," Trembley said in his pre-game meeting with the media. "It's not OK to just come out here and run around Camden Yards and be a big league baseball player and then go home afterwards."

He said he needs leaders in the clubhouse and on the field who will approach their teammates when they aren't doing things the right way. He said he has some of those players now, but "I don't feel like I've got enough of them. I feel like I have a core, but not enough. I need more."

Good character, Trembley said, needs to be aligned with talent to make this team competitive again.

And last night, with Zambrano on the mound facing Halladay, was a prime example of how the injury-depleted Orioles are too short on depth and talent to compete consistently in the AL East.

The eight runs the Orioles surrendered were the most they had allowed in a first inning since last Sept. 3 against the Oakland Athletics, when they gave up nine. It was the most in a first inning in Blue Jays history. And it was the second time this season an Orioles starter failed to get out of the first - the other was Birkins on Sept. 15 against the Blue Jays.

"It's the game. It can happen to anybody," Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "After that, our guys held them, and that's the best thing that can happen."

On this night, Birkins was a bright spot, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out six, although he allowed three inherited runners to score.

He had to bail out Zambrano, a baseball nomad who joined the Orioles this month as an emergency fill-in. Zambrano (0-3) recorded just two outs. And he was extremely fortunate to get one of them, Frank Thomas' bases-loaded shot that left fielder Jay Payton caught while leaping at the outfield wall.

"When you miss the location, it's pretty tough," Zambrano said. "I tried my best, and I didn't do my job. The bullpen came in and did my job for me."

Thomas' sacrifice fly drove in the first run; the rest followed quickly. Overall, Zambrano allowed four singles, three walks and the hit batsman before he was taken out. And before the Orioles realized what had happened.

"You are facing Roy Halladay and you are down 8-0, it [stinks]," Millar said. "The bottom line: We battled our butts off, but it's hard to make a living on that."

Notes -- Outfielder Corey Patterson (left ankle), who has missed the past 20 games, will likely be shut down for the season. Patterson, who will be a free agent, said he's still hoping to play this week, but Trembley said that will be precluded by the long layoff. ... Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 9 because of a left oblique strain, will be on a 75-pitch limit tonight against the Blue Jays. Guthrie, 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA, was named "Favorite New Oriole" by the Oriole Advocates yesterday. ... The Blue Jays' Josh Banks, a Severna Park High graduate, makes his first big league start today against the Orioles. Banks, 25, has appeared in two games this month in relief. He was 12-10 with a 4.63 ERA in 27 starts with Triple-A Syracuse. He is expected to have hundreds of friends and family in attendance. ... Former Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie was named the Florida Marlins' interim bullpen coach for the rest of the season.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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