Braves 8, Orioles 1

While the clubhouse attendants packed equipment into travel bags and cleaned the dirt off cleats, and several players headed for the showers, Miguel Tejada sat in full uniform on a sofa and stared ahead. His teammates were eager to leave behind a disastrous 1-6 road trip, but Tejada could not pull himself away from another defeat. It was almost a half-hour after Sunday's 8-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves when Tejada gathered himself from the sofa. Baltimore's ultimate sparkplug had suddenly lost his spunk.

"We have to calm down," Tejada said. "I said that to myself too. I need to relax. Because I want to win and I want to be on base. And I think that's what everybody is thinking right now."

What had once appeared to be such a promising season has turned into a fight to stay within reaching distance of the Boston Red Sox, who on Sunday won for the 12th time in 13 games.

It's stunning to see how quickly Baltimore, losers of five straight, has fallen. Exactly a week ago, the Orioles, after a 5-1 homestand, were three games ahead of Boston. Now they are 21/2 games back.

"That's the game," Rafael Palmeiro said. "Maybe a week from now we're three up."

Manager Lee Mazzilli said he would not call a special meeting to address the team about the losing streak, though he said he would speak to the team about staying positive during Monday's scouting meeting prior to the opening game of a three-game set against the New York Yankees.

"We have one choice: to keep fighting like a son of a gun," Mazzilli said.

The Orioles have survived several injuries this year but it appears they can't survive the loss of Melvin Mora. Baltimore has not won since Mora was forced out of the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays because of a strained hamstring. He might return for the series against the Yankees. Some numbers Mora's agent might want to bring out during contract discussions: Baltimore is just 8-19 the past two seasons when Mora has been out of the lineup because of injury.

"It's pretty difficult when we lost Mora in Toronto," Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez said. "It was hard to go out there and get it going. Everybody is trying to stay positive."

The Orioles hardly rallied against Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz, who allowed just five hits and one run in nine innings. Perhaps most embarrassing was that Smoltz had as many RBI, one, as any Baltimore hitter had against him. Smoltz's RBI double in the eighth inning against reliever Steve Reed was the pitcher's first since 1999.

It was on the mound, though, where Smoltz was most impressive. After at-bats against Smoltz, Baltimore hitters shrugged their shoulders, shook their heads or slammed their bats in frustration.

"Today he looked like the Cy Young winner he is," Tejada said. "It just shows when you have a pitcher like him going, there's not going to be many chances. We battled. What can we do?"

Baltimore does not have such a pitcher. During the seven-game road trip, no Orioles pitcher delivered a quality start. Lopez's six innings on Sunday was the longest outing for any starter during the trip.

Lopez struggled in the first two innings, allowing three runs, and simply couldn't match Smoltz. The Orioles starter said he had a difficult time adjusting to the size of the mound. Lopez said the mound in the bullpen where he warmed up was higher.

"I think early I was leaving my pitches up, especially the change-up," Lopez said. "I was missing my spots and I paid for it."

How well the Orioles play in the two weeks prior to the all-star break may determine whether they will be contenders or whether they will simply fade into the middle of the pack. The series against the Yankees will be an important test.

"We have to come back and win one game and not just worry about one series," Mazzilli said.

Before the losing streak, Baltimore appeared to be a confident team. The Orioles laughed after games and discussed each at-bat. On Sunday players seemed dazed while sitting on the couch after the game. Some players watched television. Others read a magazine. Tejada chose to simply sit and stew.

"There's nothing different," Tejada said. "We just can't get on a run. We're struggling right now."

Melvin Mora averts his eye as the Orioles lose to Atlanta. It is their fifth straight loss and they fell further behind the Red Sox in the AL East.