It may be only natural that the Baltimore Orioles experience a waning resolve at this point in their season, with the trade deadline having passed, their record plunging uncontrollably and the front office having implicitly, if not explicitly, conceded the rest of the season.
In a 12-2 loss to the Oakland A's tonight in front of 10,878 at Network Associates Coliseum, the Orioles played one of their most lethargic games of the season, full of mental mistakes and difficult defensive plays that were not made.
It was as if today's news that Cal Ripken went on the 15-day disabled list with back stiffness robbed the Orioles of their last meaningful motivation of the season -- Ripken's dual chase for 400 homers and 3,000 hits.
It also did not help that Ricky Bones, making his first start of the season after being moved from the bullpen into the rotation, failed to make it through the third inning, and left-handed reliever Doug Johns failed to keep the game close.
The loss was the Orioles' sixth in a row, their fourth losing streak of that length or longer this season. In these six losses, the Orioles (46-60) have scored a total of 11 runs and have held the lead for a total of five innings. Tonight, A's rookie phenom Tim Hudson (6-1) held them to two runs over seven innings.
"I want to turn it around," Manager Ray Miller said, "but we have to pitch and we have to score some runs."
The Orioles gave Bones a luxury few of their starting pitchers have enjoyed lately: an early lead. Center fielder Brady Anderson led off the game with a single to right and eventually scored on a wild pitch by Hudson. The lead became 2-0 in the second, when second baseman Delino DeShields tripled off the scoreboard in left-center, scoring Jeff Conine. It was DeShields's first triple of the season.
The Orioles had a potential third run gunned down at the plate in the third inning when Albert Belle tried to score from first on a double to right-center by Harold Baines.
That 2-0 lead lasted until the bottom of the third, when the A's connected for five hits off Bones, highlighted by Matt Stairs's three-run homer. Bones failed to make it out of the inning, and a long night for the Orioles' bullpen began.
"I felt pretty good; I had everything working," Bones said. "I hope they let me go one or two more [games]. I'd like to get a couple more shots."
That Bones would last just 2 2/3 innings should have come as no surprise. He had not started a game since Sept. 27, 1997, and because of injury and sporadic use had thrown a total of just 2 2/3 innings in the last five weeks.
And in retrospect, the A's were a bad team for Bones to make his 1999 starting debut against. Their lineup is packed with good left-handed hitters, and lefties were hitting .357 off Bones entering tonight's game.
Stairs is a left-hander, as is Jason Giambi, who had an RBI single off Bones in the third, and Eric Chavez, who doubled off Bones in the second. Bones retired only two of the seven lefties he faced tonight.
Essentially, Bones (0-3) is being given a two-start audition for a permanent spot in the rotation. He is scheduled to start again Sunday in Baltimore against the Detroit Tigers, but if he does not improve in his second start, the Orioles will have to choose from several options, including Class AAA starters Doug Linton and Calvin Maduro, and left-hander Johns, who replaced Bones tonight in the third.
Bones was only following the pattern of Orioles pitchers making their first starts of the season. Combining the first starts of Mike Mussina, Juan Guzman, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson, Linton, Rocky Coppinger, Scott Kamieniecki, Jason Johnson and Bones, you get a 1-6 record (Mussina had the win) and a 10.90 ERA.
The A's put up another four runs in the fourth against Johns, who got no help from his defense. The inning featured an RBI double to right by John Jaha, which Orioles right fielder Belle bungled at the wall, and a rare sacrifice fly on an infield pop-up, when DeShields held on to the ball too long, allowing Jaha to sprint home from third base without a slide.
"This outfield is a little bit big for us," Miller said.
An error by first baseman Will Clark with two outs in the eighth opened the door for the A's third four-run inning of the night, capped by a three-run homer by shortstop Miguel Tejada off Orioles closer Mike Timlin.