Orioles reliever Matt Albers reacts after giving up a three-run… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
A standout pitching performance from the youngest gun on staff, a pinch-hit, game-tying shot in the late innings and two homers from a reserve infielder are usually enough to bring comfort to a scuffling team and a disgruntled fan base.
But not in this early season, not for an Orioles team that simply can't churn out a victory, even when it seemingly plays well.
Tuesday's 8-6 loss in 10 innings to the Tampa Bay Rays was the Orioles' fifth straight defeat -- all at home, and most in heartbreaking style. Eight games into the year, the Orioles have lost seven, including six by three runs or fewer. It's the team's worst start since 1988, when they went 0-21. Forget about the long-gone days of Orioles Magic, the start of 2010 has become Orioles Tragic.
"I think it is our job as players to look at more the big picture and know that it is a long season," said infielder Ty Wigginton, who hit two homers in just his third start of the year. "We have been on the wrong side a lot, and it's not a whole lot of fun when you end up on that side. But at the same time, I think the guys are playing hard and playing good baseball and it just hasn't worked out yet. If we keep playing this style of baseball, in the end everything is going to be good."
The theme of playing hard but falling just short was cemented when Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena hit a three-run homer in the top of the 10th against Orioles reliever Matt Albers (0-1) to wipe out a stirring two-run pinch-hit homer by Luke Scott that tied the score at 5 in the eighth.
"Tonight was similar to what we've been seeing for the last week," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "We're not closing the games out of the bullpen. We're not getting outs when we need to get outs, and it's no one guy -- it's kind of getting spread around with everybody now. We're just not getting outs from the bullpen when we need to, and we wasted another good start."
The night began splendidly with left-handed phenom Brian Matusz, the club's only pitcher with a win, setting the tone.
Matusz didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning -- a bunt single by Ben Zobrist -- and didn't allow two base runners on at the same time through seven, throwing an incredibly efficient 85 pitches.
He started the eighth by striking out Willy Aybar to tie his career high with eight strikeouts. Then, typical of the Orioles this month, everything went horribly wrong, and the Rays sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring five runs.
Matusz, who had allowed two hits and a walk to that point, yielded four straight hits -- the last an RBI single to left by Sean Rodriguez that ended Matusz's shutout bid and sent him to the dugout, with the consolation prize of a standing ovation from the 13,731 fans in attendance.
"Obviously, when you walk off the mound, you want to end it with an end of an inning, but it was really nice to get a standing ovation by the crowd to show their support," said Matusz, who was charged with four runs in 7 1/3 innings. "It made me feel really good. On the other hand, I would have liked to get out of that jam."
Within three batters, Matusz's gem had turned to dust -- and an eventual no-decision.
Reliever Jim Johnson entered and induced Zobrist to pop up for the second out. But Evan Longoria followed with a two-run single to left to tie the score.
Lefty specialist Will Ohman got Pena to hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Cesar Izturis snagged on a dive, but he couldn't make a good throw to first, allowing the go-ahead run to score. B.J. Upton then doubled home the fifth run, and it looked as if the Orioles had again given a winnable game away.
That had to wait for the 10th inning.
Scott, pinch hitting for Izturis with two outs and one on in the eighth, smashed a 1-0 pitch from Rays reliever Randy Choate onto the right-field flag court for a game-tying two-run homer. It was his second of the season and the fifth of eight Orioles home runs this month that have tied a game or given the club the lead.
Despite scoring more than three runs for the first time in four games, the Orioles didn't do much offensively, even with three homers. Heading into Tuesday, they were an abysmal 9-for-57 (.158) with runners in scoring position. They bumped it up to .159 by getting one hit in six chances Tuesday.
Again, they were close to winning. And again they fell short.
"All the losses sting, but this one, we had this one, 3-0 looking pretty good and then to come back and lose it again, it's tough," said Albers, who didn't retire any of the three batters he faced. "It's not easy, but this game is over so you have to come back and be ready tomorrow."