Devil Rays 13, Orioles 3

-- By the top of the ninth inning Wednesday night, with the rain getting harder, the crowd thinning out to a handful of masochistic die-hards, the opponents traipsing around the bases unfettered and yet another ineffective reliever struggling to retain his dignity, the Baltimore Orioles suddenly discovered that, yes, there was still one more step down into their bottomless pit of humiliation.

On a night the Orioles' bullpen was asked to cover an entire game, it certainly did record all 27 outs. However, in between those outs, they were pounded and embarrassed in a lifeless 13-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

At this point, the all-star break cannot come soon enough.

In the aftermath of one of the team's most thorough defeats, right-hander Rick Bauer was optioned to Class AAA Ottawa for the second time this season -- in order to give the team an extra bench player, to be named Thursday -- and this time he went down swinging. His target: the team's management.

"They said they didn't think I could pitch for this team, and they would try to get rid of me," Bauer said. "Deep down, yeah, I'm hurt, because I busted my [tail] for this organization. And to hear that, and basically just get kicked to the curb. . . . I don't know how to take that. I just want to pitch somewhere. I don't even care where anymore."

Minutes earlier, Bauer had mopped up the greasy remnants of a hideous ninth inning. Already having outpitched, outhit and outhustled the Orioles for eight innings, the Devil Rays took gleeful advantage of the Orioles' helpless bullpen, pouring on seven runs in the ninth, as Orioles relievers walked four batters and the Devil Rays sent 11 batters to the plate.

In the bottom of the ninth, when the Orioles finally broke up Tampa Bay's shutout with three runs -- including Rafael Palmeiro's 540th career homer -- what was left of a crowd of 28,081 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards cheered derisively.

Third baseman David Newhan's bat has been a welcome addition in the last few weeks, but the same cannot be said for his glove. On Wednesday night, he made two critical errors that led indirectly to five of Tampa Bay's runs. The first error -- which came with the bases loaded in the first -- opened the door for a three-run inning.

"You make that play, you're out of the inning with one run," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It could've changed the whole game."

If one had to single out one reliever for the honor of worst pitching performance of the night, it would go to veteran right-hander Jason Grimsley, who entered in the top of the ninth and retired one of the seven batters he faced.

His performance, though, was only slightly worse than that of right-hander Mike DeJean, who fumed at umpire Jerry Meals's strike zone while giving up a pair of walks, a sacrifice fly and a two-run double to the first four batters he faced.

It says something about the Orioles at the season's midpoint that their 82nd game was started by a pitcher, lefty John Parrish, who had not started a game in the majors in nearly three years. It says even more about the Orioles that such instances are becoming commonplace.

Parrish became the fourth straight starter to take the hill for the Orioles after beginning the season somewhere other than their rotation. Parrish, a middle reliever by trade, followed Daniel Cabrera, Dave Borkowski and Rodrigo Lopez, who began the year, respectively, in Class AA, Class AAA and long relief.

Parrish's 21/3-inning dud began a long procession of relievers to the Oriole Park at Camden Yards mound, each one seemingly less effective than the one before.

And while the Orioles keep patching holes in their rotation, the Devil Rays keep creating new heroes in theirs. On Wednesday night, it was journeyman right-hander Rob Bell, who shut out the Orioles on two hits over seven-plus innings, retiring 13 batters in a row at one point.

The Orioles, who own full custody of last place in the AL East, are 16-30 since May 20; during that span, the third-place Devil Rays are 32-13. And yes, that equates to a 161/2-game swing between the teams in a little more than six weeks.

The all-star break comes Sunday evening. Asked if he thought the Orioles were guilty of embracing it a few days too soon, Mazzilli cut off the question.

"Nope," he said. "I won't let that happen. . . . The day off [Thursday] will come at the right time, and we'll come out this weekend [against Kansas City] ready to play hard and try to win every game we play."

Orioles Notes: The team has decided to skip Cabrera's last turn of the first half, preferring to give the 23-year-old rookie a breather despite his impressive debut over the last two months.

"He's a young kid and he hasn't pitched a lot," Mazzilli said. "He's probably not used to pitching this many innings, and we're going to need him through the end of the year."

Erik Bedard, Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez will start against Kansas City in the final series of the first half, even though Cabrera leads all Orioles starters with a 3.18 ERA and a .227 opponents' batting average. He and Dave Borkowski will be in the bullpen for the series. . . .

Third catcher Ken Huckaby, claimed on waivers from Texas on Tuesday, was officially added to the 25-man roster, and outfielder Chad Mottola was outrighted to Class AAA Ottawa.

Devil Rays' Aubrey Huff scores on a sacrifice fly by Toby Hall as Orioles catcher Robert Machado awaits the throw in the first inning, when Tampa Bay scored three runs.Orioles' John Parrish sweats out rough outing, lasting 21/3 innings, giving up three runs (one earned).