White Sox 6, Orioles 3

It was not the loss of another game that had emptied out a somber clubhouse, but instead the absence of a friend, a teammate, and a hero to many that caused the quick exit. The losses have become commonplace. The news of the day wasn't. Under the backdrop of Rafael Palmeiro's suspension for testing positive for steroids, the Baltimore Orioles lost their sixth consecutive game, a 6-3 decision to the Chicago White Sox.

Minutes prior to the game, the team had learned about Palmeiro's 10-day suspension for violating baseball's anti-drug policy. It cast an awful pall on the day. The game hardly seemed to matter anymore.

In losing four to the White Sox, the Orioles have fallen out of contention and are now 81/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Orioles have lost 14 of 16 games and are in their worst slump of the season heading into a six-game road trip that begins in Anaheim. The Orioles won just one game in the eight-game homestand.

"Tomorrow we have to be positive," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "What other recourse do we have? It's a long season. We have to turn it around."

The pivotal moment of yet another listless loss, and actually perhaps the only intriguing part of the weekend series that Chicago dominated, occurred in the sixth inning when White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle was ejected for striking Baltimore outfielder B.J. Surhoff on the left elbow with a pitch. In the top of the inning Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera struck A.J. Pierzynski, but no warning had been issued. The ejection ended Buehrle's streak of 49 starts pitching at least six innings.

"If there had been warnings issued and I hit a guy, yeah," I would understand, Buehrle said. "But to go out there and do what they did, and then I hit a guy, and I guess they looked at it as intentional."

Mazzilli denied Cabrera struck Pierzynski intentionally. Striking Pierzynski had put men on first and second with the game tied at 1.

"Not at all," Mazzilli said. "No reason to. You can't put the go-ahead run on second. That's not smart pitching."

Cabrera's hit batsman certainly didn't appear smart when the following hitter, Jermaine Dye, singled to put the White Sox ahead 2-1. The White Sox added runs in the seventh and eighth.

Whether he did it intentionally, Cabrera isn't above throwing at someone. He has hit nine batters this season and was fined after throwing a pitch behind New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Baltimore was certain, though, Buehrle had thrown at Surhoff intentionally.

"You watched the game," Surhoff said. "You've seen enough games. The game's played the way the game's played. You'd have to ask them what happened. I wasn't involved in the conversation between the pitcher and their team and their manager and their coaches."

Palmeiro's loss for 10 days won't help this team in decline. Palmeiro was Baltimore's most productive hitter of late. In July he hit .299 with six home runs and 19 RBI. The Orioles are allowed to replace Palmeiro on the roster for those 10 days, but it's unlikely they'll find someone who could equal his production. Baltimore had not announced a roster move.

"The timing obviously is not good," Mazzilli said. "We're going to have to make do. We're going to have to band together as a team and fight through it. There's no other way of not being able to get through this other than to fight through it. I think the team and clubhouse feels the same way. I don't think there's any other way to go about it."

The game seemed insignificant for most of the day. News of Palmeiro's suspension spread to the stands. Few players were available to members of the media after the game. Many had already boarded the team bus, which was headed to the airport. This is not only a team in decline in the standings, but also in spirit. Mazzilli admitted the team was down emotionally.

"I think you watched us the last few weeks, we've not hit when we're supposed to hit and we're banged up a little bit," Mazzilli said. "It's taken a whole toll on us."

White Sox second baseman Pablo Ozuna forces Orioles' B.J. Surhoff at second in the third inning.