Athletics 4, Orioles 1

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

None of them are hitting now, but there is only one Oriole that gets immediate attention with each out. The fans are relentless, booing him each time he fails to connect in the clutch.

Rafael Palmeiro has suddenly become a pariah for a star-studded team that can't hit, and a once first-place team which can no longer win consistently. Palmeiro was hitless for yet another game and left six men on base in the Baltimore Orioles' 4-1 loss to the Oakland A's on Friday.

Twice he came up with men on base and both times he did not drive in a run. Another time he stranded a runner at third. Palmeiro is 2 for 20 since his return from a 10-day suspension for failing a steroid test. He has hit safely in only one of the five games he's played.

"I feel like I'm hitting the ball okay," Palmeiro said. "Not every time but the last swing was a good one. Seems like I get a couple good at-bats and a couple bad at-bats.

"Dude, I don't know how to feel anymore."

There is an anticipation each time he gets to the plate, a sense that something great could happen and when it doesn't the crowd does not allow him to forget.

"Prove what?" Palmeiro said. "I don't know what to prove. I've played 20 years. I've proved myself for 20 years.

"I don't have anything else to prove on the field."

Palmeiro has been generous with the media, accommodating them each day they step near his locker. But Friday appeared to be the day he reached his limit. He was not rude, or curt with his comments, but there was an edge that had not existed.

It is true right now of an entire team that can't score runs. The Orioles have scored one run or less four times in the past six games and one run or less against an opposing starter only seven of the past nine times. It's become an unbearable theme in a season that is quickly becoming unbearable.

"I can't figure it out," designated hitter Jay Gibbons said. "I'm a little puzzled by it.

"It's pretty brutal how we're swinging the bats right now."

Eric Byrnes had tried everything from big swings, to little swings, to no swings at all, but he could not find a way get a base hit against his old teammates. So to start the only run-scoring rally for the Orioles on Friday, Byrnes laid down a bunt along the third base line in the seventh inning. Byrnes popped the ball up, but it landed in front of third baseman Eric Chavez and the Orioles left fielder raced down the first base line and had his first hit in 15 at-bats against the A's. He scored the Orioles lone run on a single by Brian Roberts. And that was it. No more.

"We had plenty of chances no question about that," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We got a little overanxious and basically in those situations we're not swinging at our pitch."

Only a week ago, Baltimore went into the McAfee Coliseum and swept the A's and rekindled thoughts it was a playoff contender. The Orioles aren't playoff contenders anymore, having lost six of their past seven games.

The two runs scored by Oakland in the first four innings were too much for an Orioles offense that continues to slump. Oakland's lead became insurmountable when Athletics shortstop Bobby Crosby hit a two-run homer against Orioles starter Bruce Chen in the eighth.

"I felt like I made one mistake and paid for it," Chen said of Crosby's home run.

Baltimore's offense had seemingly caught a break when Athletics pitcher Rich Harden had to skip a start because of a strained muscle in his right side.

When Harden was scratched earlier this week, Oakland then moved up Barry Zito, meaning he would also not pitch against the Orioles.

But Baltimore made Oakland starter Joe Blanton look like a Cy Young Award winner. He pitched six scoreless innings and allowed just four hits.

"He seems to throw the one pitch you're not looking for, especially in tough spots," Perlozzo said.

In the ninth, with two men on base, Palmeiro came to the plate as the tying run against closer Huston Street. The first baseman flied out meekly to right to end the game.

Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts snags a ball on Friday.