Angels 8, Orioles 4

-- Back in May, back when wins were plentiful and Rafael Palmeiro was still a hero and the Baltimore Orioles believed this was going to be the year, Erik Bedard's left arm, young and powerful, was the vehicle that was going to carry them to the promised land. In some other year, it may yet be so. But in 2005, it is now August, heroes are made of sand, and Bedard is just another pitcher unable to stop the Orioles' slide into oblivion.

On Wednesday night at Angel Stadium, Bedard pitched the reeling Orioles to their eighth straight loss, an 8-4 decision at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels. At this rate, Palmeiro will return on Aug. 11 from his 10-day suspension for a steroids violation without having missed a single victory.

In a season in which they spent 62 consecutive days in first place in the American League East, it has now come to this for the Orioles: At the close of business Wednesday night, they were closer in the standings to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays (91/2 games behind the Orioles) than to the first-place Red Sox (101/2 games ahead).

The Orioles are now 9-28 since peaking at 14 games above .500 (42-28) on June 21.

Meantime, the Angels benefited from a rare loss by the Oakland Athletics earlier in the night, increasing their lead over the challengers in the AL West to two games.

For an ever-so-brief moment Wednesday night -- perhaps 10 minutes in the fifth inning -- the Orioles enjoyed that rarest of pleasures in these dark days: a lead. A four-hit inning against Angels starter John Lackey (9-4), capped by Javy Lopez's RBI single, put the Orioles on top 2-1 -- the team's first lead since Saturday's eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox, some 33 innings earlier.

But before the Angels even had time to summon the Rally Monkey from his mystical cave for the bottom half of the inning, they were right back on top again, turning a seemingly harmless leadoff walk into a six-run inning. At one point, six straight Angels batters reached base against Bedard (5-4), who fell to 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA since returning from a seven-week stay on the disabled list.

Typical of the Orioles' fortunes these days, the go-ahead run scored on Darin Erstad's single to left, which came one pitch after he botched a suicide squeeze attempt, fouling back Bedard's pitch.

Bedard fumed silently at home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo's strike zone for much of the night, and his final pitch was a ball to DH Bengie Molina that Bedard believed to have been a strike. Given a merciful hook by Manager Lee Mazzilli, Bedard stalked off the mound silently, and watched from the dugout as, two batters later, rookie right-hander Chris Ray gave up a single to Jose Molina -- Bengie's brother -- that plated two more runs charged to Bedard.

In the season's first couple of months, Bedard was a perfect symbol of the Orioles' improbable and uplifting rise to the top of their division. A career 6-10 pitcher entering the season, he pitched like an ace, going 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA before suffering a sprained knee that forced him to the disabled list.

Winless in three previous starts since returning to action, Bedard pitched admirably in the early part of Wednesday night's game, before coming undone in an interminable fifth inning, which saw the Angels send 11 batters to the plate. The biggest blow came when Garret Anderson drilled a two-run single into center field, one batter after Bedard walked reigning American League most valuable player Vladimir Guerrero to load the bases.

At least the Orioles did not let Guerrero beat them in that instance. All he had done to that point in the series was drive in six runs -- including one in Wednesday night's first inning, on a double to left-center in a situation (runner on second, two outs) that called for extra care from Bedard.

But it was that kind of night for the Orioles, and it was also this kind of night: In the second inning, Orioles designated hitter Sammy Sosa launched a towering fly ball to straightaway center field against Lackey. Watching its familiar, regal arc, Sosa went into his patented homer-hop, only to see the ball die at the warning track and shoot off the wall, past center fielder Steve Finley.

Instead of motoring around to third, Sosa could only ease into second base. He looked bewildered, as if he couldn't figure out where his power had gone. It is a feeling to which all his Orioles teammates can relate.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada and the O's are now 9-28 since peaking at 14 games above .500 on June 21.