One of major league baseball's unwritten rules is never underestimate the opposition, no matter how much it has been struggling, because every team has its share of talent.
So when the Orioles finally escaped one of the worst early-season stretches in their history, a 32-game span against mostly top-shelf teams in which they won just nine times, no one in the clubhouse said easier times lay ahead.
Undoubtedly, the schedule softened considerably this week when the three American League teams whose records most closely resembled the basement-dwelling Orioles visited Camden Yards. Yet after Sunday afternoon's 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles need to sweep the Kansas City Royals in their coming two-game series to secure a winning record on this eight-game homestand.
"I don't know if the schedule ever lightens up," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "You're playing major league-caliber teams every day. Everybody wants to win; everybody's going to put their best club on the field and go at it for nine innings."
After taking two of three from the Seattle Mariners and winning their first against the Indians this week, the Orioles (12-26) dropped two straight to Cleveland (15-20), blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday and then failing to show up offensively Sunday against Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook.
Westbrook, who won 14 or more games for the Indians each season from 2004 to 2006, didn't pitch at all last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In his eighth start since June 2008, Westbrook (2-2) came within one out of a shutout.
His bid was ruined by the hot-hitting Luke Scott, who had three hits Sunday, including a solo homer with two outs in the ninth inning that gave the announced 29,323 in attendance something to cheer about on an otherwise forgettable afternoon.
The Orioles collected nine hits and had at least two runners reach safely in four of the first five innings. But they were hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position and twice grounded into double plays to end potential rallies.
Westbrook retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced and became the most recent pitcher to shut down an Orioles offense that has now scored three runs or fewer in 24 of 38 games and has been held to one run or shut out a dozen times in 2010.
"Absolutely, there were some missed opportunities, and we've had that happen to us quite a few times this season," said Scott, who is hitting .444 in his past seven games and has brought his season average up to .245. "It's frustrating, and it's difficult. The only thing we can do is come out [tonight] and play hard, and hopefully things will turn around for us."
The sputtering offense negated a gutsy performance by Mark Hendrickson (1-1), who made his first start of the season after scheduled starter David Hernandez was scratched with shoulder discomfort.
Hendrickson found out Saturday night that he would be making his first start since October, and he responded by allowing three runs on seven hits in five-plus innings. He threw 59 pitches, 26 more than he had in any outing this season.
Hendrickson had made 12 relief appearances this year, including pitching 11/3 innings Friday, and he hadn't thrown more than 21/3 innings at a time in 2010.
"I knew I probably was going to pitch with a little fatigue, but that wasn't going to be a problem for me," Hendrickson said. "Just staying focused and trying to make pitches and just go as long as I can."
Hendrickson made one true mistake — a two-run homer by Matt LaPorta in the fifth that traveled an estimated 432 feet to deep center. Cleveland's Russell Branyan also hit a two-run shot in the ninth against reliever Alberto Castillo, supplying a little extra cushion that Westbrook didn't need. The homers secured a series victory for the Indians that looked unachievable in the eighth inning Saturday night.
"It's tough. We are on the brink there of getting the game [Saturday] night, but obviously we didn't close it out, and it kind of switched momentum a little bit," Hendrickson said. "They had a great start from Jake today, which made it very difficult for us. But hopefully we can regroup. We had a pretty good homestand, we've got two more games and I think we are playing better ball. We've just got to try to get some wins when we're not expected to do it and be a little more consistent."
In a season in which every upswing is met with another pratfall, the Orioles were left Sunday afternoon attempting to positively spin a 3-3 homestand against the AL's other struggling squads.
"We won two out of three against Seattle, and we came in here and we had a chance to win the series today, and we didn't," Trembley said. "So you put it in the books and you get ready to play the Royals. … And you expect to play better and you expect to win the last two games here and then take it on the road."
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by The Baltimore Sun. The Sun Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.