By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 27, 2008
BALTIMORE, Sept. 26 -- Before his team lost, 3-0, to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, Manager Dave Trembley described the Baltimore Orioles as "mentally tired." And they looked it, failing to mount much threat before the game was cut short by rain in the seventh inning.
Only one Baltimore hitter -- Nick Markakis -- reached second base. And that came with two outs in the sixth inning, when Baltimore collected back-to-back hits only to come away with nothing.
"We had one real chance there," said Trembley, who watched his team lose its season-worst 10th straight game.
Considering how the season is ending, perhaps it was appropriate that this is how Fan Appreciation weekend at Camden Yards began. The team planned a fireworks exhibition for after the game. But the rain, which had fallen through the night, started coming down in heavier doses just as Trembley came out to fetch Orioles starter Chris Waters with one out in the seventh inning.
Three minutes later, with reliever Lance Cormier trying to see home plate through the raindrops, the grounds crew sprinted onto the field, tarp in tow.
"It was miserable out there," outfielder Luke Scott said. "Like I said, ball's not carrying, heavy air, thick grass in the infield."
Play was stopped at 8:47 p.m., and the game called altogether 1 hour 5 minutes later, thus officially extending the Orioles' limp to the finish line.
Baltimore extended its season-ending crash with its 29th defeat in the past 36 games. When the slide began -- the result mostly of the pitching staff's accelerated attrition -- Baltimore was just three games under .500. But with Friday night's loss, the Orioles plummeted to 25 games under the break-even mark.
Only a twist of the schedule can prevent the Orioles from the worst September in franchise history (by winning percentage) even though Baltimore is just 4-19 for the month. But because the Orioles have only two games left, that dubious distinction will remain with the 2002 team, which went 4-24 (.143 winning percentage).
Still, the second-worst September swoon remains in reach. The Orioles went just 6-21 (.222) in the season's final month in 1987.
At least early on, it seemed that the Orioles had the advantage in a matchup of pitchers pushing 30 who until recently had spent their entire careers marooned in the minors -- or worse. Entering play, Waters and Blue Jays starter Scott Richmond combined for 16 big league starts, all since July 30.
Earlier this year, Richmond, 29, became just the 14th Canadian to play for the Jays, an accomplishment considering that he spent his previous three seasons playing independent baseball with the Edmonton Cracker Cats.
But after signing with the Blue Jays at the end of last year, Richmond reached his dream during just his first season in organized ball, reaching the majors in July.
In four previous starts, Richmond showed a pesky habit of pitching well before allowing big innings. His last win came June 23 -- at Class AA New Britain.
Yet against the Orioles, he got results more consistent with that of teammate and 20-gamer winner Roy Halladay.
"We hit some balls hard, just right at people," Scott said.
Meanwhile, Waters, 28, fell behind 1-0 in the sixth after Scott Rolen's RBI double into the gap. In the seventh, the Blue Jays started pulling away, first behind Curtis Thigpen's first major league homer, a solo shot. With Waters chased from the game, José Bautista made it 3-0 by driving in a run against Cormier.
Waters fell to 3-5 with the loss, but Trembley said the left-hander has pitched well enough for the opportunity to win a role next season.
"He did more than what was expected of him," Trembley said of Waters, who finished his season with a 5.01 ERA. "We really didn't know about him. He wasn't even on the radar. I think he held his own. He's to be commended for that."