Orioles Stumble Before Break
Baltimore Drops 11 Games Under .500: Royals 11, Orioles 7
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page D01
BALTIMORE, July 11 -- Remarkably, the Baltimore Orioles sank low enough Sunday to find a fitting end to their worst first half of a season since 1999.
During their final nine innings before the all-star break, the Orioles crammed in enough disaster to summarize their disappointing 37-48 record. In an 11-7 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles displayed all of their vices: unreliable starting pitching, miserable relief, shaky fielding and a sometimes lackluster offense.
It was as if they wanted to purge themselves of all their first-half ills before the break.
"We've got a lot of work to do, that's for sure," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "There's a ton of room to get better in every area. Every single area. We're not too good at anything right now."
Sunday's loss -- which came in front of a boo-happy crowd of 31,042 -- proved as much. The same Orioles team that earned a 7-2 win Saturday looked incompetent Sunday, exemplifying the baffling inconsistency that's defined the first half of their season.
Their pitching staff has shown flashes of brilliance, but it has yielded the most walks in the American League. Their defense is one of the lowest-ranked in the league.
The offense is even more inexplicable. The Orioles had 13 or more hits for seven consecutive games in late May, but they've done that just nine times in the 37 games since. Baltimore's offense has proven itself capable, but more often it winds up culpable.
"I'd like to see us get more consistent," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It would be nice if we could start to string some things together and have a stretch where we stopped going up and down."
There was no hint of that Sunday. Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez looked shaky during his 5 1/3 innings, providing a sharp contrast to starter Daniel Cabrera's seven shutout innings Saturday. And even though the Orioles scored seven runs, five came in the last two innings with the game well out of hand.
Lopez yielded five runs (all earned) on 10 hits. The Royals caused consistent damage.
In the first inning, Mike Sweeney (4 for 6, two home runs, three RBI) turned a fastball into a 425-foot solo home run. Lopez slapped his glove hard as he watched the ball sail over the center field wall, and he never really recovered.
The Royals rallied for two runs in the third inning on an RBI single by Sweeney and a run-scoring double by Matt Stairs to take a 3-0 lead, and chased Lopez with a two-run sixth, when they went ahead 5-2. Angel Berroa contributed a run-scoring single, and David DeJesus added an RBI double.
"That put it away," said Lopez, who dropped to 6-6. "I felt like I was close to having control over everything, but things didn't go so well."
It got worse for the Orioles in the top of the seventh inning, when Kansas City scored six runs.
After Eddy Rodriguez yielded a long home run to Sweeney to lead off the inning, Mazzilli brought in Buddy Groom. Groom gave up another homer to the very next hitter, Stairs.
Things only got worse for Groom, who gave up two more hits before allowing another run to score on a balk.
Mike DeJean followed Groom and watched three more runs cross the plate. Tony Graffanino singled home Berroa, and two scored on an error by third baseman Jose Leon. When the inning finally ended, the crowd erupted in a long, sarcastic cheer.
"It was agonizing," Palmeiro said. "It was just terrible to stand out there and watch absolutely everything go wrong.
"We've had a lot of bad moments, so I don't know if this was the low point of our season. But it definitely was one of them."
Orioles Note: Mazzilli announced his post-break pitching rotation Sunday -- sort of. Erik Bedard will start Thursday, followed by Daniel Cabrera and Lopez. Sidney Ponson likely will pitch next, depending on how his sore groin feels. Dave Borkowski, who earned a win in his lone start last week, would go next. "We still need to see about Sidney," Mazzilli said. "He'll pitch on the side Thursday, and then we'll know if he's ready to go."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company