TORONTO - This one would surely have hurt far worse a couple of months ago, when the Orioles were still playing for something more than pride, when pitching meltdowns weren't as common for them as broken bats and bloop singles.
That's not to say that the Orioles' 8-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays last night in a game they led by six runs in the fifth inning was just like any other defeat in a second half full of them. It did, in fact, carry a heavy dose of indignity, perhaps not felt as much by the players as by the organization as a whole.
With the loss, secured on rookie Travis Snider's tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning and former Oriole B.J. Ryan's 30th save, the Orioles have assured themselves a last-place finish in their division for the first time since 1988, the year the team opened the season with 21 straight losses.
"It matters," said Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, who had a busy night, renewing his war of words with umpire Rob Drake and driving in his 100th and 101st runs on a fifth-inning single before reinjuring his left hamstring, which could sideline him for the rest of the road trip. "Nobody wants to be in last place. Nobody wants to be a loser. It's one thing that we need to turn around next year."
Despite 10 straight losing seasons entering the year, the Orioles (67-83) had avoided the dubious distinction. They finished in fourth place in the American League East nine times and in third once during the stretch.
However, a sense of inevitability that this would be their year in the cellar hit before the season when president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who watched last night's game from a suite on the first base side of Rogers Centre, traded his most accomplished hitter (Miguel Tejada) and top pitcher (Erik Bedard) and started the rebuilding process.
The Orioles surprised for a while, but ultimately bad pitching and a lack of depth, both on display again last night, brought them back to reality. They are 23 games out of first place in the AL East and 13 games behind the Blue Jays and New York Yankees. With just 11 games remaining - the Sept. 6 rainout with the Oakland Athletics will likely not be made up - the Orioles will stay right where they are.
"I never thought about it, to tell you the truth," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who did his best to avoid another Orioles loss with three hits, including his 49th double of the season. "If you don't finish first, you finish last basically, unless you win the wild card. Tampa Bay finished last, what 10 years in a row [actually nine of the past 10 years]? They were in last last year, right? In the future does it matter? Not really. Does it mean it hasn't been a fun year? No, of course not. But it's certainly not something I've thought a lot about."
Last night epitomized the Orioles' collapse after the All-Star break. They had a 6-0 lead after their five-run top of the fifth off Blue Jays rookie left-hander David Purcey. The big inning included a two-run single by Mora, pushing him over the 100-RBI mark for just the second time in his career, and a tape-measure two-run homer by Aubrey Huff. Huff's blast, which landed in the second deck in right field and just under the Hard Rock Cafe, was his 32nd of the season
As quickly as the Orioles took the big lead, they gave it up. Brian Bass had cruised into the fifth inning, allowing four base runners in extending the shutout streak by Orioles starters to 21 innings. However, in the fifth, the first four Blue Jays reached base. When Marco Scutaro laced an RBI single, the Orioles' lead was down to 6-3 and Bass' evening was over.
"After we scored five, he went out and got stuck," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Alex Rios cut the Orioles' lead to 6-5 with a two-run double off Lance Cormier later in the inning and put the Blue Jays ahead with a solo homer off Rocky Cherry in the seventh.
Luke Scott tied the score in the eighth with a pinch-hit RBI single, but the Jays reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning. Scott Rolen hit a leadoff double off Kam Mickolio and eventually scored on Snider's deep flyout to left field.