Angels 8, Orioles 3

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."

If Cabrera also had trouble adjusting to Osik behind the plate, he would not be alone. The Orioles are 0-6 in Osik's starts, and his "catcher's ERA" -- the combined ERA of Orioles pitchers with him behind the plate -- is 6.98, compared with a 4.41 mark for Lopez.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Orioles to justify Osik's spot on the roster -- particularly with Geronimo Gil (.286) and Robert Machado (.319) playing well at Class AAA Ottawa.

Osik (.080) is 0 for 14 with six strikeouts this season with runners on base, and when he flied out to shallow left in the sixth inning Sunday -- with runners on second and third and one out -- it marked the first time he had hit a ball out of the infield since May 1.

Mazzilli said before the game he feels his team is better than a .500 team, and there will be ample opportunity to prove it in the coming days. After a long flight home and an off-day Monday, the Orioles will welcome the New York Yankees to Baltimore for the first time this season.

"I would be concerned if this [losing] trend continues," said veteran Rafael Palmeiro. "The key thing is how we rebound on Tuesday."

Orioles Notes: The opener of the Yankees series Tuesday night will mark Mazzilli's first time managing against mentor Joe Torre.

"I can't have the emotions come into play," Mazzilli said when asked about facing Torre, under whom he served as first base coach the previous four seasons. . . .

The Orioles will start Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez and Sidney Ponson in the three games, respectively, while the Yankees will counter with Jon Lieber, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown.