Falling apart

Optimism not so easy with routine summer losses

On yet another blown Orioles game

July 07, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

No, Brian Roberts said, looking perplexed at the question. This loss yesterday at Camden Yards, which came with a near tidal wave of negatives that all but washed out the positives, was not going to be the start of the Orioles' same old summertime routine.

"What, a loss?" he said. "Every team goes through that at some point. We're just going to keep going and plugging away and see where we are at the end."

Good luck to Roberts, then, and to Dave Trembley, and to everybody in the organization who has picked up their habit of seeing the glass as half full. Right now, to plenty of others, it looks half empty and draining fast from all the cracks.

If it were only the ugly 11-10 defeat by the Texas Rangers, nearly four hours of blown chances by a team trying to close a homestand strong and end a Sunday losing streak, almost - but not quite - drenched in a perfume of an 11th-hour rally.

If it were only the starting pitching, which seems incapable of going deep into a game. This time, it was Radhames Liz. If it were only the bullpen, suddenly stretched way too thin and looking far too weary. Yesterday, it neutralized every comeback the offense tried to mount. If it were only the lousy situational hitting, which ought to haunt everybody in the lineup with all the times they stranded runners in scoring position in a game they lost by one.

But it's all of those things at once. And, to make the picture even more of an eyesore, there's the pain Adam Loewen felt in the fifth inning yesterday. "Sharp." That's how Trembley said Loewen described it. That's probably the same feeling the entire organization is feeling today. Of course, in true Orioles fashion, he is only the third pitcher to go down in less than two weeks, after Matt Albers and Jamie Walker.

But Loewen's setback definitely made a clubhouse straining to maintain optimism much more grim.

There won't be a stiffer test of that optimism, of that well-noted resilience, than in the final six games, all on the road, before the All-Star break. This was the time to build momentum, against Kansas City and Texas. Instead, they began the homestand by coughing one up to the Royals, and, as it turned out, it wasn't the exception to their usual rule.

This was not supposed to be a 3-4 homestand, but the way they lost those four games, they were asking for it all the way. After the blown save by George Sherrill last Monday, there was the seven-run meltdown Thursday, then the lead the bullpen couldn't hold for Brian Burres on Saturday, then the debacle yesterday. Pick an inning yesterday, and you can find a way the Orioles let a chance to win get away.

Even taken by itself, yesterday held so much promise. It was All-Star selection day. Sherrill's big day, of course, but he couldn't enjoy it because of the loss and because he contributed to it - he entered with one out in the eighth, down 8-5 with two on and one out, let both runners score and gave up one more himself. He was the shining star of a vastly improved relief corps, but lately he has hit the wall along with the rest of them.

Roberts? Made the five-man list for the American League's final All-Star berth, began the day with a single, two steals, a run and a homer. Finished it striking out to end the game.

And, of course, yesterday was the Orioles' "We Win, You Win" promotion. To make a long story short, the Orioles have lost 13 Sundays in a row, won't be giving away free tickets to future games and have to hear about their freak of a schedule for another week.

The difference between the Sunday fluke and the rest of the Orioles' misery is the rest isn't a fluke. The bad signs are surfacing all over, and they're legit. There are so many that solving one won't solve everything - although even Trembley acknowledges that one area has been more of a letdown than the others. "Like any other team, our success or failure comes from your starting pitching," he said.

Before the game, Trembley said he had told the players at the start of the Rangers series that the ensuing 20 games - that series, the road trip and the 11-game homestand coming out of the break - would tell a lot about what this team is made of.

The Orioles are way behind that schedule already. Don't be surprised if they can't bounce back this time the way they usually do.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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