Rangers 9, Orioles 3

The Baltimore Orioles' road trip ended Sunday at Ameriquest Field the same way it began five days earlier at Angel Stadium -- with a blowout loss constructed around a disappointing outing by their problem-child starting pitcher. But this trip will be remembered less for the two wins and the four losses, including Sunday's 9-3 spanking at the hands of the Texas Rangers, than for the way it changed the tenor of the season.

Rarely has a team endured a more tumultuous week than the Orioles did this week. Their Hall of Fame-hopeful first baseman, Rafael Palmeiro, was suspended for a steroid violation Monday -- a story that played out in headlines and innuendo all week -- and their manager was fired, the ultimate symbol of a systematic failure.

After packing their belongings early Sunday evening, the Orioles headed back to Baltimore to face the dark unknown: How will the rest of the season play out under interim manager Sam Perlozzo? And what will become of Palmeiro, who is scheduled to return to the team Thursday?

The Orioles departed Texas with the theme from "The Natural" -- which is played over the PA system following every Rangers homer -- ringing constantly in their ears. Orioles pitchers gave up a staggering 10 homers in the three-game series -- which might be easily explained as a product of the homer-happy tendencies of Ameriquest Field, except for the fact the Orioles themselves hit only three.

Three of the Rangers' homers came Sunday, including another by first baseman and Severna Park native Mark Teixeira -- who homered in all three games of the series -- and a towering, 433-foot blast by former Oriole Gary Matthews Jr. in the bottom of the sixth off lefty Tim Byrdak, a three-run shot that expanded the Rangers' lead to 7-0.

"Just a mistake," Byrdak said of Matthews's homer. "It was supposed to be a sinker away, but it cut back over the plate."

The Orioles can look back and say they played hard to the end in a couple of blowouts under Perlozzo, even to the point of physical pain -- such as in Sunday's eighth inning, when first baseman B.J. Surhoff strained his groin beating out a double-play relay, with the Orioles trailing 9-2. Surhoff had to be helped off the field and undoubtedly will miss at least a couple of games.

And then there is starter Sidney Ponson, who labored through 21/3 innings before leaving the game in the third -- with the bases loaded, one out, and Alfonso Soriano coming to the plate -- with what was later described as a strained right calf. An inning earlier, Ponson (7-11) had sprinted to the first base bag to record the putout on Matthews's grounder to first.

Facing the Rangers' stacked lineup -- which has hit 40 more homers than any other team in the league this season -- is not a pleasant experience for a pitcher, and this was the second time in 10 days that Ponson had made a premature exit against them in the third inning because of injury. On July 28 in Baltimore, he left after being struck on the right thumb by a comebacker.

"He's had a pretty bad string of luck," said catcher Sal Fasano.

Perlozzo, who took over for Lee Mazzilli on Thursday, said he had a "heart-to-heart" conversation shortly thereafter with Ponson, whose lapses in concentration and conditioning have haunted past Orioles managers.

"All I asked him to do was take care of himself [beginning] a couple of days ahead of [his starts], concentrate on what he's doing and go as far as he can," Perlozzo said. "He was fine [with it]. I let him know where I was coming from and asked him where he was coming from, and we had a good chat.

"I was excited looking forward to his outing today. Unfortunately, it got cut short because of the injury."