Athletics 12, Orioles 3

At certain times, you can see a season crumble, when the only hope in the stands rests with the little boy wearing a bright orange T-shirt, an Orioles cap tilted on his tiny head. With no idea where his favorite team was in the standings, that little boy still danced, his hands flailing in all directions, in the middle of the sixth inning when his Baltimore Orioles were being pounded by the Oakland Athletics in what may have been the lowest point of the season. The Orioles are losers of seven of the past eight games after a 12-3 thumping by the Athletics.

For all the optimism that existed after a strong start, after 62 consecutive games in first place, the Orioles have a worse record at this point than they did in 2002, a season in which they lost 95 games.

A team that had been humbled off the field recently by Rafael Palmeiro's suspension for a failed steroid test and pitcher Sidney Ponson's arrest for drunk driving was embarrassed on the field Saturday. Baltimore committed three errors, allowed 15 hits and stumbled their way through a painful game to watch.

"We just have to do something to get out of what we're in," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "I don't know if it's a lack of concentration. We have to show a little more pride than what we've been showing."

Right fielder B.J. Surhoff let a routine fly ball tick off his glove and land on the ground for an error. First baseman Chris Gomez threw a ball past shortstop Miguel Tejada.

"You can only make so many excuses," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We're major league baseball players. You're not supposed to make mental mistakes."

In the sixth inning, with the Orioles already trailing by nine runs, Oakland first baseman Dan Johnson lofted an easy fly ball to shallow left-center field.

Left fielder Eric Byrnes and center fielder Luis Matos both jogged toward the ball. Neither appeared eager to catch it, and Byrnes, in desperation, lunged and made a spectacular, albeit embarrassing, grab.

"I'm not sure what's going on with that," Perlozzo said. "I don't know if they're miscommunicating. We need to figure it out and correct it."

After the play, Matos walked away in disgust and Byrnes, trying to make amends, approached the center fielder, who wanted no part of an explanation.

"He's only been here two or three weeks," Matos said. "I know he's a hustle guy. I have it in my mind he's always going to be there. We need to communicate a little better."

Though the offense has been equally dreadful of late -- scoring just one run or less against an opposing starter in eight of the past 10 games -- the Orioles have been defined by their lack of pitching. For the second consecutive outing, starter Eric DuBose failed to pitch more than two innings. After allowing three runs and eight hits in a loss on Tuesday, DuBose was pounded for six runs, five earned, and six hits in two innings against the Athletics.

In the past two starts, DuBose has not thrown more than 55 pitches. Whether DuBose's time in the rotation is over strictly depends on whether the Orioles think they have any other legitimate candidates to replace him. Long reliever James Baldwin, the only other roster candidate for a rotation spot, allowed six runs -- four earned -- in 32/3 innings of relief Saturday.

Perhaps the Orioles can reach into their minor leagues for a replacement, though there is a shortage of candidates there, too. Ponson's thumb injury, which ended his season even if his arrest Thursday morning hadn't, and Daniel Cabrera's back injury have already forced the Orioles to use DuBose and John Maine, both of whom were pitching in the minors earlier this month.

"I would say that we'll explore something," Perlozzo said. "I don't know if we have something in mind."

In the bottom of the ninth inning, as Melvin Mora grounded out to shortstop to end the game, the seat where that little boy in the orange T-shirt had sat was empty. Hope had left early.

Orioles starter Eric DuBose, right, and catcher Sal Fasano confer during the A's seven-run third inning.