By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008
BALTIMORE, Sept. 13 -- Despite a plea by Baltimore Orioles Manager Dave Trembley for his team to raise its level of play for the season's waning days, it was easy to distinguish the team engaged in a tight playoff race from the one headed for a last-place finish.
The Orioles were outpitched, outslugged and outworked as the Minnesota Twins swept a doubleheader at Camden Yards on Saturday, beating the Orioles 12-2 in the first game and 12-6 in the second.
The defeat in the nightcap guaranteed that the Orioles would finish with a losing record for the 11th consecutive year, the American League's longest stretch of futility.
Only the Pittsburgh Pirates -- 16 straight seasons -- have been worse.
Before Friday's rainout, Trembley called a 15-minute meeting to drive home the importance of finishing strong. And on Saturday, he followed the gathering by going along established baseball etiquette by trotting out most of his team's regulars to face the Twins, who entered play just a game behind the Chicago White Sox for the lead in the AL Central.
But the Orioles' everyday players could do nothing to escape their brutal fate.
After sweeping the doubleheader, the Twins moved into a first-place tie in the division, joining the White Sox because their doubleheader was postponed.
The Orioles, meanwhile, inched closer to reaching another dubious milestone, their first basement finish since the infamous 1988 season.
Over the two games, Carlos Gómez knocked in six runs, Denard Span drove in five and Justin Morneau had four RBI, which continued the Orioles' crash landing. Baltimore has lost four of its last five games, and 17 of its last 20.
The Twins pulled away by jumping on pitchers Daniel Cabrera and Garrett Olson, neither of whom could end what's been an epidemic of horrendous pitching.
Cabrera gave up three runs while laboring through 561/37 innings and set the tone for a game in which the Orioles spotted Minnesota a season-high 10 walks.
Cabrera's issues with command took full view and his velocity remained in the high 80s and low 90s, a discouraging sign for somebody known as a power pitcher.
He faced eight batters in a long third inning, in which Minnesota scored three runs, including one on a Morneau double. And by the time the sixth inning rolled around, Cabrera's control had only worsened and his pitch count was bumping against the century mark.
"For the last two weeks, I made two starts," said Cabrera, pitching for just the second time since Aug. 24. "That's going to happen."
Trembley hastily pulled Cabrera after walking two batters in the sixth. Cabrera finished with five walks and just one strike out, a ratio that could be explained partly by his lack of velocity. And the fans at Camden Yards offered a mixed reaction to Cabrera, who also drew some boos.
But the loudest jeers were reserved for Olson, who made sure that the second game was over before shortly after it started. Olson allowed six runs and five hits in just two-thirds of an inning. It was the shortest start of his career and perhaps the worst the Orioles have endured this season.
Only Matt Albers logged a shorter start this season -- lasting just one-third of an inning against the Chicago -- though his removal was hastened by injury.
Oscar Salazar's three-run blast in the nightcap gave the crowd one of its few escapes from misery. Lou Montanez made a diving catch in left field and Aubrey Huff reached over the fence to catch a popup in foul ground, drawing applause even though both plays with the game already out of hand.
But as far as trying to impersonate playoff contenders, that was it for the Orioles.
In the ninth inning of the first game, Trembley pulled Ramón Hernández out of the blowout in an apparent response to a play in the eighth. After hitting a grounder to third base, Hernández failed to beat out the throw, even though it was bounced in the dirt, then sent high into the air when Morneau failed to pick it cleanly.
"I'd prefer not to answer that," Trembley said of the benching. "All you gentleman being as acutely aware as you are, you can figure that one out on your own."