Phillies 5, Orioles 2
There is a word for a team whose lineup-by-attrition is a daily exercise in counting warm bodies, whose bench is full of players who cannot play, whose shaky left fielder is a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman and whose number one pitcher is on a record-setting pace of losses despite pitching reasonably well every fifth day. That word is dysfunctional.
As the Baltimore Orioles packed their bags in the visitors clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park late Sunday afternoon and prepared for the two-hour drive home, their 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies left them more numbed than angry.
It was the type of loss they had witnessed many times this season, especially in recent weeks. It included a respectable outing by pitcher Sidney Ponson, who nonetheless failed to prevent his major league-leading 12th loss. It included a couple of groan-inducing examples of un-clutch hitting, when Brian Roberts and Rafael Palmeiro killed late rallies with double-play grounders.
And it included a Defining Symbolic Moment, when all the Orioles' problems were crystalized.
It came in the top of the second, when left fielder Jerry Hairston -- the aforementioned Gold Glove-caliber second baseman -- failed to make a play on Jim Thome's blooper in shallow left. Three batters later, the Orioles' 1-0 lead was gone on David Bell's two-run double, and Ponson (3-12) and the Orioles (34-44) were on their way to another loss.
"If I catch that ball," Hairston said, "it's a different story. I apologized to [Ponson]. I wish I had caught that ball."
"That ball," Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "has got to be caught."
But the bigger question is why Hairston, the team's starting second baseman from August 2000 until being injured in May 2003, is still playing left field (and occasionally right field, third base and designated hitter) three months into the season. The answer: injuries, a tepid trade market and the fact second base remains occupied by Roberts.
"We're putting guys all over the place to fill in," Mazzilli acknowledged. "You're asking guys who are out of their position to fill spots."
With their loss Sunday, the Orioles completed interleague play with a 5-13 record, same as last year, including a 2-7 mark in National League parks.
The Orioles returned home -- to face the prospect of a day-night doubleheader Monday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- with four wins in seven games on this road trip. However, there were few positive vibes in the Orioles' clubhouse.
Ponson was his usual nihilist self following his ninth consecutive loss. "I pray to God to turn this around," he said. "It's been a long time, and it's frustrating. I'm running out of words to say. It is what it is. . . . It never goes my way. I'm nine games under .500."
A year ago, Detroit's Mike Maroth became the first major league pitcher in 23 years to lose 20 games. Ponson, with 12 losses in his team's first 78 games, is now on pace to lose 25. Never before in Orioles' history has a pitcher lost so many games before the all-star break.
In addition to Hairston's critical misplay in the second, Ponson was also hurt by his own lack of athleticism, when he failed to field winning pitcher Eric Milton's comebacker to his left in the fifth inning. The infield single led to a pair of runs when, three batters later, Bobby Abreu lined a two-run double into the left field corner.
In his lineup Sunday, Mazzilli made an unprecedented concession to Palmeiro's continued struggles, dropping the veteran first baseman below catcher Javy Lopez in the batting order for the first time this season. After going 0 for 3 against Milton, Palmeiro, 39, is now hitting just .165 against lefties this season.
Later in the game, facing right-hander Roberto Hernandez with runners on first and second and nobody out in the eighth inning, Palmeiro grounded into a 4-6-3 double play; he is hitting .174 in his last 23 games.
The dysfunctional nature of Mazzilli's present roster -- which was exacerbated by a 16-inning win Friday night, in which his bullpen was fried and two starting players (left fielder Larry Bigbie and third baseman Melvin Mora) were lost to injuries -- finally appears to have pushed the manager to the point of begging the front office for help.
Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie spent several minutes in Mazzilli's office after the loss, and Mazzilli said the front office is aware of the dilemma.
"Look at the lineup cards and how we have to mix and match guys," Mazzilli said. "You're very limited in what you have on the bench. There are things you want to do that you can't do. . . . We talk about it. We're searching. We're very aware of it."
Orioles Notes: With a lefty on the mound for the Phillies, Orioles utility man David Newhan was on the bench despite his 15-game hitting streak. His streak ended when he flied out to center against Tim Worrell to lead off the ninth.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada, however, extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a fourth-inning double.