-- Mike DeJean has been around this game long enough to know exactly what was going on across the Baltimore Orioles' universe as he slouched off the mound at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., in the eighth inning Friday night, having once again left his fingerprints all over a loss:
The hard-core late-night fans back in Baltimore were taking to the Internet message boards to plead for the veteran reliever to be traded, released or dropped from the roof of the B&O Warehouse. Someone in the front office was bracing for a phone call from his boss and wondering if it had been a mistake to sign DeJean this winter. And lefty Eric DuBose, his fourth win of the season having just been lost, was averting his eyes on the Orioles' bench, so DeJean would not see his disappointment.
DeJean walked past it all in a daze, down the dugout steps, into the tunnel and up to the clubhouse, all the while eyeballing inanimate objects with murderous impulses that took real effort to subdue.
"It's hard to keep it inside," he said 36 hours later, "without wanting to take a bat and wipe out a garbage can. I've got to make sure I keep all my sanity together because patience is not something I've ever been accused of having. . . .
"I like to think I've matured a little bit. I broke my own hand before -- in 1998 [with Colorado] -- in absolute, utter disgust at a performance. I like to think I'm past all that. But it's still hard to swallow."
As the Orioles prepared for the start of a three-game series with the New York Yankees today, DeJean has an ERA of 7.90 and an incalculable supply of frustration.
"It's very important for me that the fans know that when I go out there I've given an absolute 100 percent," said DeJean, 33. "I'm fighting even when I'm doing good. If I make a bad pitch and a guy misses it, I'm thinking, 'Dadgummit, you've got to throw a better pitch.' I can't let myself get down, and I don't. I get upset, and I get frustrated. And sometimes I'm at a loss for words, and sometimes it's better not to say anything.
"A lot of times, with the media, you feel like you're getting barbed and you're getting prodded. And you have to say, 'You know what? Write what you want to write, but be careful about those daggers that you throw. Because sooner or later the angle is going to change.' "
But what exactly is the angle? Is DeJean a waste of $1.5 million of Peter Angelos's money? Is he the absolute worst relief pitcher in baseball, as complex statistical analysis by the Web site baseballprospectus.com purports to show?
Or is he the victim of an uncanny run of despicable luck, as some of his teammates argue?
Take Friday night, a microcosm of his season. Entering the game in the bottom of the eighth -- with DuBose having pitched the Orioles to a 3-1 lead through seven -- DeJean faced three batters and threw a total of six pitches, five of which were strikes.
Two of those five strikes appeared to be pitches out of the strike zone that likely would have been called balls had the batters, Adam Kennedy and Vladimir Guerrero, not swung at them. Both times, the ball was put into play, and both produced base hits -- respectively, a grounder down the third base line and a flare into center field just beyond the reach of Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada.
The third hit given up by DeJean in the inning was a bunt single by Chone Figgins, who pushed his bunt past DeJean toward second base and beat the throw from second baseman Brian Roberts.
"There are a lot of fans who just look at the box score and don't see the pitches that are made and whether they're quality pitches or not," DeJean said. "I could've thrown six fastballs right down the middle, and had three home runs saved at the wall, and I get credited with a hold and a scoreless inning, and Jorge [Julio] comes in and gets the save, and everything's hunky dory. . . .
"Were [those pitches] mistakes? I don't think so. Certainly, there was nothing in there that you'd think would cost you three runs and the ballgame."
Mistakes or not, the bases were loaded, DeJean was yanked, and right-hander Darwin Cubillan was in. Cubillan allowed all three inherited runners, plus one of his own, to score. The Orioles lost, 5-3, and three of the runs, plus the loss, were charged to DeJean, who appeared near tears after the game.
"Friday's loss was really, really, really frustrating," he said later. "That's the kind of game that takes two days to shake off. [Saturday], I was just tired, mentally drained. I'm just sitting there all day thinking, 'Golly, what do I have to do?'
"There's no rhyme or reason to it. It'd be one thing if you're throwing balls down the middle, and they're hammering it all over the place and out of the park. If that happens, I can look in the mirror and look at the tape and just say, 'Hey man, you know what? That's terrible.' But I make good pitches and they get base hits, if I say that's what happened, it sounds like I'm making excuses."
He is heartened by the support he gets inside the clubhouse, and from friends and family outside those walls. Manager Lee Mazzilli, for example, has never hesitated to put him right back in pressure situations despite the failures, even though it places Mazzilli right next to DeJean in the line of fire from angry fans and second-guessers.
"I appreciate Lee sticking with me," DeJean said, "because my confidence isn't shaken. I'm disgusted at some of the things that have happened. I don't think my numbers indicate the way I've pitched this year. I think I've had some crummy luck. But what can you do?
"If my dad has a bad day at work on Monday, he's not going to tuck tail and stay at home Tuesday to Friday. So I have to keep coming out and keep grinding. It's going to turn sooner or later. I really believe that."
Orioles Notes: The team is expected to call up right-hander Denny Bautista, one of the organization's top pitching prospects, from Class AA Bowie on Tuesday. Right-hander Rick Bauer, who has yielded 10 earned runs in his last 61/3 innings, is a candidate for demotion. Bautista, 23, was acquired from the Florida Marlins last July in the Jeff Conine trade; he is 2-4 with a 5.10 ERA for the Baysox.