Devil Rays 6, Orioles 2

They started the road trip in celebration of a future Hall of Famer's heralded hitting milestone and have finished their journey possibly mourning the demise of their season. The Baltimore Orioles, who aren't hitting and aren't winning, left Tropicana Field on Sunday a bit worried.

After Baltimore's 6-2 loss on Sunday to the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Brian Roberts, the gregarious second baseman sat sullenly in front of his locker and asked reporters for a minute of solitude before speaking.

In perhaps the lowest point of their season, the Orioles were swept by the Devil Rays, finished their road trip 3-7 and fell to just three games over .500 for the first time since April. A lineup built to hit has been quieted. The Orioles had just 16 hits in three losses to the Devil Rays -- six hits in the final 17 innings against Tampa Bay -- and have averaged 2.6 runs in their last eight games. Rafael Palmeiro's 3,000th hit seems to have happened ages ago.

"Nobody is going to jump off the ship here," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We are going to fight our way through it and we're going to battle our [butts] off to get back to where we can be. We are too good of an offensive club not to be hitting, but right now we're struggling. There's no excuses. We'll fight our way out. We've got too many good players on this team not to be hitting and we'll hit."

With only a week before the trading deadline, the Orioles have reached a crossroad in their season. Baltimore is 31/2 games out of first place, but only 10 of its next 42 games are against teams with losing records. Those numbers are skewed because seven of those 10 games are against the Texas Rangers, a dangerous and talented team that fell below .500 only with a loss Sunday.

"All it takes is one good day and we just haven't had it," Roberts said. "We'll turn around. We just need to do it sooner or later. We don't have any choice. We know what we have to do. We just haven't gotten the job done. You can't just throw your glove out there and expect to win. I think the Yankees found that out early, the Red Sox and at some point, everyone else. You have to go play and do your job no matter who you're playing."

What made Baltimore's struggles against Tampa Bay so appalling is that the Devil Rays have the worst ERA in the majors. The three pitchers who beat Baltimore this weekend have a combined record of 11-19. Erik Bedard, who allowed three runs in six innings, became yet another Orioles pitcher who saw a quality effort wasted.

"You try not to think about it, but it's always in the back of your mind," Bedard said of the offense's struggles.

When the Devil Rays' Travis Harper entered to pitch the ninth inning, Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley thought Baltimore would rally. Instead Roberts struck out, Melvin Mora grounded to shortstop, Miguel Tejada hit a double and Palmeiro struck out to end the game against Harper, the same pitcher who allowed nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 20-11 loss to the Yankees on June 21. Harper has a 7.24 ERA.

"You feel like in the ninth inning I thought that pitcher was going to have a hard time with us," Crowley said. "But he didn't. I thought we would have a big ninth inning and then we were going to have to finish it off against [Devil Rays closer Danys] Baez. But it didn't happen like that."

Regardless of whether San Diego Padres first baseman Phil Nevin accepts a deal to Baltimore, the Orioles will make a significant addition to their offense Monday when catcher Javy Lopez is activated from the disabled list to start against the Rangers. Lopez missed 53 games after breaking his hand on May 24. Baltimore is 22-31 without Lopez and the team's batting average has dropped 27 points.

"Javy will give us a shot in the arm when he gets back and we'll get the chemistry back again and get to rolling," Crowley said. "They're still good players. They're still good hitters. They're good people. They're trying hard. Maybe they're trying too hard. I know one thing, it will be good to get home."

Damon Hollins greets Carl Crawford, who slugged a two-run eighth-inning homer off Baltimore's Jason Grimsley to seal Tampa Bay's three-game sweep.