ANAHEIM, Calif., May 23 -- For more than five weeks, the Baltimore Orioles could count on one certainty. Even when their starting pitching dissolved for days at a time, even when their bullpen was stretched to its outer limit of elasticity, even when their vaunted offense took a night or a series off, the Orioles could wake up the next morning and take comfort in the knowledge they were still a winning team, still above .500, still emboldened to dream big.
But as the Orioles packed their bags somberly late Sunday afternoon for their cross-country flight back to Baltimore, they could no longer say that. A thorough 8-3 loss to the Anaheim Angels dropped them back to the break-even mark (20-20) for the first time since April 15 and brought them to the symbolic quarter-pole of their season no longer so sure of their soundness.
"We'll be all right," Manager Lee Mazzilli said after the Orioles lost their fourth game in a row, and seventh in their last 10. "We're going through a little rough road right now, but we're okay. Nobody likes losing. I despise it. But we'll bounce back. And we'll be better."
Though this edition of the Orioles is supposed to be much-improved -- owing to an offseason spending spree that rebuilt the middle of their lineup -- it has found the West Coast no more hospitable than did its predecessors. After going 2-4 at Seattle and Anaheim on this trip, the Orioles are a combined 28-54 at Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle over the last six seasons.
Sunday's loss found rookie right-hander Daniel Cabrera, who beat Chicago and Seattle impressively in his first two major league starts, looking more like what he really is: a raw talent who made it to the majors ahead of schedule and still has a ways to go.
Cabrera (2-1) was pounded for nine hits and six earned runs in his four innings of work. Three of the runs came courtesy of the final batter he faced, Jose Guillen, who stroked a bases-clearing double to left one pitch after the Orioles chose to walk Vladimir Guerrero intentionally to load the bases.
"The kid is young," Mazzilli said, "but when you have the bases loaded in that situation you have to make a better pitch on the first pitch. That's what he's learning. . . . Sometimes when you have a little setback, it's good in a way. He's going to learn from that. He's pitched two good games, and he hasn't really dealt with any adversity."
Guerrero and Guillen, both of whom were lured to Anaheim by big piles of money, combined to go 10 for 23 with 10 RBI in the series.
"I tried to get inside [to Guillen], but I just left it over the plate," Cabrera said through an interpreter. Meantime, the Orioles consistently put runners on base against Angels right-hander Aaron Sele (3-0) and three relievers, but left the majority of them out there. At one point, the Orioles managed to strand two runners on base in four consecutive innings, including twice when they had runners at second and third with one out.
"That," Mazzilli said, "can't happen."
Cabrera appeared uncomfortable and distracted from the start. Before he threw his first pitch, home plate umpire Jeff Nelson made him remove a rubber band he wears on his left wrist, which Cabrera then transferred to his ankle.
Two batters into the game, Cabrera motioned emphatically for catcher Keith Osik -- who got a rare start to spell Javy Lopez -- to come to the mound for a consultation.
Four of the next five batters singled, and after Cabrera struck out Shane Halter to end the first -- having allowed three runs and thrown 30 pitches -- Cabrera motioned for the ball, seemingly unaware that there were three outs.
"[Batters] have adjusted to me," Cabrera said, "and now I'm going to have to adjust to a certain way of pitching."