O's Free Fall Drops Them Below .500

Tadahito Iguchi
Chicago's Tadahito Iguchi slides in just ahead of the tag at home plate to give the White Sox an early 2-0 lead. (Chris Gardner - AP)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

BALTIMORE, July 30 -- In the middle of the ninth inning, when it appeared the Orioles would lose yet another game in this now heartbreaking season, Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada picked up a paper cup from the ground and threw it back with force. It was not an act of anger, as Tejada was not enraged, but an act of frustration. There are many things to throw and many things to slam but it won't change the fact that the Orioles, after a 9-6 defeat by the Chicago White Sox, are a losing team now, a game below .500 for the first time since April 9.

The Orioles, a first-place team for 62 consecutive games, are now 4 1/2 games out of second place and their future appears bleak. Their most promising starting pitcher, Daniel Cabrera, was lost with two outs in the second inning on Saturday after being struck on the right hand by a line drive from Joe Crede.

"I didn't feel my hand when the ball hit me," Cabrera said. "That's what I tried to do: Defend my face."

Cabrera immediately walked off the field and with him went Baltimore's best hopes for a win. Only two days earlier, the Orioles lost Sidney Ponson in the third inning when his right thumb was struck by a hard ground ball.

At this point it's unknown when Cabrera, who has a bruised right hand, will pitch again. The Orioles will likely know more about his status on Sunday.

"I'll come tomorrow ready and try to throw," Cabrera said. "It hurts a little bit. There's a little pain. But I think I'll be all right for my next start."

Though a tired bullpen admirably filled in for Cabrera, they could not hold a 6-4 lead in the eighth inning. Rookie Chris Ray, who has pitched in four of the past five games, allowed a three-run home run to White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, which gave Chicago the lead. Jermaine Dye followed with another home run to provide a cushion.

"That kid has been pitching great," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It was a breaking ball he got down and in and [Pierzynski] hit it out."

Baltimore's spirits may be dashed right now but they don't appear crushed just yet. Mazzilli did not hedge when asked if the Orioles were still a team contending for the postseason.

"Absolutely," Mazzilli said. "No question. We're not going to fold the tent up. We can't do that."

In his Orioles debut, left fielder Eric Byrnes had an RBI double but his most important contribution might have been his perspective on the difficulties of a long baseball season with a contending team. When with the Oakland Athletics, Byrnes remembers several comebacks in the second half of the season.

"I remember being seven games back in the late August and winning the division," Byrnes said. "I know a lot of people on the East Coast tend to panic a bit more and it's understandable because they care more. But at the same time there's more than two months in the season to play. But obviously everybody has to start playing better baseball."

Baltimore hoped the return of starting pitcher Erik Bedard and catcher Javy Lopez would ignite the club. But the Orioles are 2-10 since Bedard returned and 1-5 with Lopez back in the lineup. The Orioles have 59 games to turn around their season. And it must start quickly.

"You can make up a lot of ground in 60 games," catcher Sal Fasano said.

It won't be easy. Baltimore's bullpen at this point has been stretched to an extreme.

"This is about as rough a stretch as I've seen in a while," Fasano said.

Since Wednesday, Orioles relievers have pitched 25 innings. Jason Grimsley, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery in October, has pitched 4 1/3 innings in the past two days. It's certainly not a pace Baltimore had intended for him. But the team has had no choice.

"Guys are ready to pitch, but it's taken the life out of your ball, the explosion, that little extra giddy-up that is behind it," reliever Steve Kline said.

Mazzilli said the team would consider making a roster move, perhaps bringing up a pitcher from the minors to provide help for the bullpen. After the game, Mazzilli met with team executives Jim Beattie, Mike Flanagan and Ed Kenney. The Orioles are a team in search of answers.


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