ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - -They led by three runs and had only nine outs to get to end a 10-game losing streak that added even more heartache to a season that had already been miserable enough.
The Orioles received a quality start from Mark Hendrickson, a two-run homer from Brian Roberts and two rare two-out RBI hits. With the way things have been going, it was probably far too much to ask for the bullpen to protect a lead.
Continuing the one-bullpen-implosion-per-night theme of the road trip, Matt Albers served up a game-tying three-run homer to pinch hitter Willy Aybar with two outs in the seventh inning, one of four Tampa Bay Rays' home runs. Pat Burrell then drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off Danys Baez in the eighth as the Orioles' losing streak reached 11 with a 7-6 loss in front of an announced 10,352 Monday night at Tropicana Field.
"It has become a situation where no matter who you put in, no lead has been safe," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose staff has given up a major league-leading 209 homers this season. "It seems like there are two outs and the third out is the elusive one. The home run ball has been absolutely devastating all year, but during this stretch it's been prominent in what's been going on. The results have been a very bitter pill to swallow."
Asked how difficult a prolonged losing streak has been with his job status up in the air, an agitated Trembley said: "I've never put myself ahead of anybody. I don't feel sorry for myself. We do the very best we can. If you've seen our club, my responsibility is to prepare them to play hard, be professional, be responsible, put guys in the situations where I think they can be successful.
"And if anybody would have the guts to step up and tell me I haven't done that, I'd tell them they're full of [crap]. And that's about as graphic as I've ever been in 35 years of coaching baseball."
The Orioles' bullpen has coughed up the lead or allowed a tie in the seventh inning or later in four of the team's 11 straight losses. It is the Orioles' longest skid since they dropped 12 straight from Aug. 16-28, 2004. They are 36 games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 107-loss 1988 season. At 60-96, the Orioles need to go 3-3 to avoid the third 100-loss season in team history.
That's a daunting task, considering even getting one win is proving to be a monumental challenge for the Orioles.
"We're a young team, and guys are learning on the job, but I think the one thing that we need to take from this year and really apply to next year is learning how to win," said Hendrickson who pitched six solid innings, giving up three solo homers and nothing else. "That's something that is between the ears. It's a mind-set. As a young player, you need to experience a little bit of it to do it over the course of a six-month season. We get paid to win and we're not winning right now, and it's frustrating."
Things had looked so promising for the Orioles. They knocked American League Rookie of the Year candidate Jeff Niemann out of the game after just 3 1/3 innings, with Roberts doing the honors on a two-run homer that gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead. Jeff Fiorentino got a two-out RBI single in the fifth, and Melvin Mora did the same in the sixth to extend the Orioles' lead to 6-3. But they couldn't score any more runs, going 5-for-20 with runners in scoring position and leaving 14 men on base.
They lamented the missed opportunities in the seventh when Albers gave up a one-out single to Burrell, a two-out single to Shawn Riggans and then the three-run shot to Aybar. Before Aybar's at-bat, pitching coach Rick Kranitz came to the mound and told Albers and catcher Matt Wieters to pound the switch-hitter with sinking fastballs and throw only off-speed pitches out of the zone. The pitch Aybar deposited into the right-field seats was a hanging curveball that caught too much of the plate.
Albers left the clubhouse without talking to reporters, leaving outfielder Nick Markakis to try to put another agonizing loss in perspective.
"There's only so much we can do," he said. "From a hitter's standpoint, you can go out there and try to have good at-bats. Whatever the end result is, it is what it is. We have to work with, we have to work with. It is what it is."
NOTES: : Reliever Bob McCrory returned to Baltimore and will have an arthrogram taken on his sore right shoulder today. He's probably done for the season. ... Outfielder Felix Pie (left quadriceps strain) missed his third straight game after having a magnetic resonance imaging taken Monday. It's looking more and more as if Pie won't play again this season. ... The Orioles officially announced that they have shut down 21-year-old starter Chris Tillman after the worst outing of his rookie season. Chris Waters will join the rotation and start in Thursday's series finale with Jason Berken being pushed back to Friday. "I'd rather go in the offseason coming off a good start, but I'm happy with my season," said Tillman, who went 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA in 12 starts. "All in all, I probably wouldn't have had this opportunity if circumstances didn't come up with guys getting hurt. I'm very happy I got the opportunity to pitch here."