Five weeks earlier, the Orioles had put the finishing touches on a season-opening three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, a performance so thorough that it created hope that perhaps this season would be different for the moribund franchise.
By the time Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth got Derrek Lee to bounce into a game-ending double play, finalizing the Orioles' 5-3 loss and a tables-turning three-game sweep, the feelings of hope and excitement among the announced 16,359 at Camden Yards were noticeably absence.
These days, the Orioles are giving their fans little reason for anything but frustration and despair.
"It's one of those stretches where we can't seem to get the big hit, we can't seem to get the big out, we can't seem to do a whole lot right, to tell you the truth," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who went 0-for-3 with two walks and has one hit in his past 24 at-bats, spanning six games.
Losers of four straight games and a season-high five games under .500 at 14-19, the Orioles were so thoroughly dominated this weekend at home that they never led in any of the three games. In fact, they've gone 35 consecutive innings without a lead.
Over the past three days, they were outscored 19-7 and out-hit 36-16. It was the first time that the Orioles were swept in a three-game home series since Buck Showalter became the manager in August. They've also lost nine straight series finales.
"You can point your fingers wherever you want," said Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, who went 0-for-4, leaving his average at .227. "The fact of the matter is we need to get stuff done, and we're not right now. Good things are going to happen. We're just going to put it behind us, have a nice off day and hope for a win [against the Seattle Mariners] on Tuesday."
As Markakis pointed out, there is plenty of blame to go around. Struggling starter Brad Bergesen allowed five runs on nine hits and two walks in just 4 2/3 innings, falling to 0-4 with a 5.57 ERA. The Orioles have lost nine straight games he has started, dating to last year.
In five career starts against the Rays, Bergesen is 0-5 with a 9.13 ERA. He hasn't completed six innings in any of his starts against the Rays, and this season, he hasn't gone more than five innings in three of his six outings.
"I'm not looking at it as I'm at a loss right now," Bergesen said. "It's a funny game; I feel like sometimes it's just so close, you know, but then it ends up causing so much damage. It's something I'm going to be working on, just going forward with this."
Markakis also did Bergesen no favors defensively, failing to make a catch on Matt Joyce's drive to right field that preceded B.J. Upton's two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. The hit gave the Rays the 5-2 lead. Upton also had a two-run single in the fourth.
With the way the Orioles' offense has been going, the 5-2 advantage felt more like an eight-run bulge. Wade Davis became the latest Tampa Bay starter to struggle to throw strikes against the Orioles, and it again barely mattered.
Davis allowed four hits, walked five and hit a batter, and yet he exited the game after five innings having allowed only three runs. In the series, Tampa Bay pitching surrendered 18 walks and 16 hits, but only two of those walks came around to score.
"We haven't done much. We've had some chances and just can't come up with a hit," Roberts said. "It's not fun. Nobody's having fun right now. You just keep plugging away."
Matt Wieters hit a two-run double in the fourth over the head of left fielder Sam Fuld, who had robbed the Orioles catcher of a home run the previous day. Lee hit a solo shot in the fifth, his fourth homer of the season.
But a day after going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and leaving 12 men on base, the Orioles went 1-for-6 in such situations and stranded nine.
"Not many people can identify what they're going through except each other and the staff and everything. I know people outside the locker room are trying to identify it, and so are we," Showalter said. "There's a lot of that going on. We had some opportunities again today and couldn't cash them in. We've got the winning run at the plate there. Just keep grinding. What do you do, give in? Pull the dirt around you? That's not going to happen. I was proud of the effort. They're pitching well, and our bullpen came in and gave us a chance to get back in there. It just didn't happen."
The Orioles had men on second and third with one out after Wieters' two-run double in the fourth, and Davis retired Roberts on a soft liner to first baseman Casey Kotchman and got Markakis to pop out to second baseman Ben Zobrist.
They got the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning when Wieters' two-out single off Joel Peralta prompted Rays manager Joe Maddon to go to his closer for a four-out save. Kyle Farnsworth struck out Mark Reynolds to keep the two-run lead intact.
In the ninth, Farnsworth allowed a leadoff double to Felix Pie and hit Markakis with one out, bringing Lee to the plate. The veteran swung at the first pitch and hit a grounder just to the right of shortstop Reid Brignac, who started the game-ending double play.
It was a fitting end to a brutal series.
"You know he throws hard with a hard slider, so I'm looking hard all the way," Lee said. "I actually got a good pitch to hit, and I was just too anxious, out front of it. I tried to do too much with the ball, and I got out front. It's as simple as that."