White Sox 7, Orioles 2

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

-- They are a different team now, and not simply because they have traded away one of their Opening Day starters. Something has changed in these Baltimore Orioles, who after Friday's 7-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox have sunk deeper into the standings than they ever had this season. Officially they've become a mediocre team.

For the first time since April 10, the Orioles are at .500. The Orioles have won just two of their past 13 games and are 9-23 in the past 32 games. A team that had playoff aspirations only two weeks ago, appears to be just hoping to stop sinking into the bottom of the American League East.

"It's hard to figure out what is wrong with our team," Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "We can't seem to get a break and we can't get a key hit."

Friday's deal that sent Larry Bigbie to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for outfielder Eric Byrnes does not solve any of Baltimore's worst deficiencies. But perhaps it brings the team the jolt of energy it seems to need. Manager Lee Mazzilli said when he looks at the standings he won't hardly believe his team has become average. He doesn't think the Orioles are a .500 team.

"Maybe this will be a nice kick that we need," Mazzilli said of Byrnes, who will bat in the second spot in the lineup and likely play left field.

Mazzilli had so sensed his team fading, he purposely seemed to get himself ejected in the first inning. Chicago White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik appeared to safely slide into third base by several inches on a stolen base attempt. But the safe call from third base umpire Mike DiMuro brought Mazzilli from the dugout. He immediately got in DiMuro's face. The manager jawed for several moments before being thrown out of the game.

Mazzilli said that from the dugout he thought Podsednik was out. This time, Mazzilli did not throw a tray of gum out to the field like he did the first time he was ejected June 19. Perhaps that might have helped.

The half-hearted ejection did not inspire the team. The Orioles scored just two runs against Chicago starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Baltimore has scored two runs or less in six of the past 13 games.

"You look at this team offensively," Mazzilli said, "and you know we're a [much] better offensive team."

Friday's starter Erik Bedard had thrown 94 pitches by the time the third inning had ended and that was pretty much the end of Baltimore's night. Bedard had given up a three-run home run to Paul Konerko, which gave the first-place White Sox the decisive margin.

With the trade deadline looming and more deals possible, Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said there was no intent on Baltimore's side to give up on the season.

"We're still looking to try to improve the club," Beattie said. "Nothing that happens in the next day or so will change our direction."

But nothing Beattie does can likely change the ugly state of a once-promising season.

It's not certain whether the Orioles will make another deal before today's trade deadline.

"It's hard to say," Beattie said. "Two days ago I don't know if I would have said we would have been able to do this. There's a lot of phone calls still going on. But whether there's more coming I couldn't really tell."

The Orioles continue to have a need for a starting pitcher and a first baseman, but at this point nothing seems to fit in their plans. Without much help it's hard to imagine the Orioles will stop the slide.

"I haven't seen prices go down," Beattie said. "There's no employee sale at this point or an employee discount where they're giving up as much as we are. It's just not happening. Prices aren't going down. Maybe they go down Sunday. Some of the GMs have players they say they are going to trade by Sunday but they haven't traded them yet."

In talking about Byrnes, Mazzilli and Beattie mentioned the outfielder's endless energy.

"He's ecstatic," Mazzilli said of Byrnes. "He's really looking forward to coming here."

The two talked for several minutes and Mazzilli sensed he was getting a player who could turn around a somber clubhouse.

"People are going to love watching him play," Mazzilli said. "He's like that Energizer Bunny. He doesn't stop."

Perhaps he is exactly what such a downtrodden team needs.