- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

BALTIMORE — Along with the lineup, pregame schedule and other pieces of information posted in the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse was a list of players who were required to give blood yesterday as part of their “exit physicals.” Compared with what has happened to the team in the last three weeks, this was good news.

“The mysteries of the game, man,” Orioles broadcaster and former catcher Rick Dempsey mused. “When things go bad, they go bad.”

In a season that started poorly then brightened considerably, things are going bad right now. Real bad. A loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, witnessed by an announced Camden Yards crowd of just 15,371, guaranteed a 10th straight non-winning season. That’s discouraging enough, but in terms of sheer pathos and weirdness during this decade of futility, the Orioles might have broken new ground. They have dropped 18 of their last 21 games, including an 18-6 loss to the Angels last night.

But wait, it gets worse. And wackier, too.

The skid began on Aug. 22 when Baltimore lost 30-3 to the Texas Rangers, the most runs allowed by a major league team in 110 years. Compounding that was the timing. It wasn’t good. Only hours before, then-interim manager Dave Trembley, who has spent most of his career in the minor leagues, was rewarded for the team’s earlier solid play with a contract to manage through 2008.

The loss, the first game of a doubleheader, ignited a nine-game losing streak and a 1-9 home stand, during which the pitching staff gave up 100 runs. It was the worst such 10-game stretch in team history.

After ending the skid with a victory in Boston, the Orioles were no-hit by the Red Sox 10-0 — pitched by rookie Clay Buchholz, who was making his second big league start.

Four days after that, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays beat Baltimore 17-2 — the most runs Tampa Bay has ever scored in a home game. Clearly, the pitching has been a mess, mainly because of injuries. Only the talented but inconsistent Daniel Cabrera remains from the Opening Day rotation. Through Tuesday night, the team ERA of 4.99 was 28th out of 30 teams.

What else could go wrong? Never ask such a question. Sunday, SI.com reported that outfielder Jay Gibbons, who had shoulder surgery in August and currently is on a rehabilitation program in Arizona, received shipments of steroids and human growth hormone from an Orlando-based pharmacy.

At least there is some levity in the clubhouse. Asked how he was dealing with the misfortune, veteran outfielder Aubrey Huff smiled and said: “I played with Tampa Bay for six years.”

Trembley has his own experience to draw upon for this situation: “Yeah, 20 years of riding the buses in the minor leagues.”

Trembley, 55, has waited all of his baseball life for this chance. He almost didn’t get it. The Orioles went 29-40 before manager Sam Perlozzo was fired on June 18 and Trembley, the bullpen coach, assumed the dreaded “interim” title. Andy MacPhail, who was hired as president of baseball operations two days after Perlozzo was fired, immediately went after former Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi for the full-time job.

Girardi rejected a three-year deal and on July 31, with Trembley achieving instant results, MacPhail called off the search. Then on that fateful day before the Rangers’ game, MacPhail gave Trembley, who had guided the Orioles to a 29-25 record, the job through next year.

Now he is presiding over an abysmal collapse, although it seems hard to assign much blame. Not with this pitching staff. With starters Kris Benson, Jaret Wright and Adam Loewen, plus closer Chris Ray, long since lost for the year with injuries, starter Steve Traschsel was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the end of August.

Then last week, American League strikeout leader and Cy Young candidate Erik Bedard was shut down for the season. Promising young starter Jeremy Guthrie also is hurt, leaving Trembley with a patchwork rotation and an inefficient bullpen.

“You can’t blame this on Dave,” Dempsey said. “No way. You’re not gonna be able to evaluate what effect he has on the ballclub till he goes through a spring training and has control of everything himself.”

Amid the madness, Trembley, a stickler for details, has tried to maintain a calm exterior and an even keel, even though he churns inside. Sometimes the emotions bubble to the surface, like when he recently chewed out Cabrera for throwing at Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

The team will continue “to play with pride,” he said. “Emphasize doing things correctly. Make sure the guys play hard. The other things we can’t control. We can’t control the amount of guys that have gotten hurt. We can’t control what’s happened.”

What Trembley can control, he said, is how he manages and how he leads.

“Leadership is, I think, trying to put your best foot forward all the time,” he said. “And not showing to [the media] and not showing your team and not showing everybody else the dark side of everything. And I try not to do that. I’m reminded about it probably more times than I care to be reminded about it, but I understand. I understand very clearly.”

So do the players, but it isn’t easy coming to work every day.

“It’s tough,” Huff said. “You’ve got to basically go out there knowing you’re not playing for anything except for pride. Go out there and ruin some other dreams for the playoffs. Just knowing that you’ve got 20 games left and let it all out on the line and hopefully do well enough and have a nice offseason. There’s nothing worse than finishing really bad, team-wise or personally, and have to sit on it all offseason.”

Publicly, at least, most of Orioles seem to have adapted the same grind-it-out mentality. It’s either keep plugging or quit.

“You’re here to do a job and that’s why you show up,” reliever Chad Bradford said.

Said veteran Jay Payton: “It’s just part of the game. You stick around this game long enough, hopefully you’ll have some high highs and unfortunately you’re gonna have some low lows. It’s been tough this year, but we know what’s going on here. Everybody’s got to try to do their part to fix it and make it better.

“You can continue to lose and get upset, but you’ve got to go home and shake it off and come back the next day and try to get a win. And that’s basically what we’ve been doing. When you’re losing, it’s not a lot of fun and it makes the season go a little bit long, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

And for all the young and/or unproven players, and the Orioles have a ton of them, this is no time to start tanking. Jobs are hanging in the balance.

“I think it’s a blessing to come here and put on the uniform of a major league team,” reserve shortstop Brandon Fahey said.

Regardless of the reasons, these are painful times for a franchise that knows its share of pain, and for a manager who tries to put it aside.

“I’m still very appreciative of the opportunity,” Trembley said. “At some point in time down the road, it will all be worthwhile, because it will all turn around. If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t be here. I know people are tired of hearing that. I understand the dilemma, I understand the heartaches. I understand all those things But I’m not gonna drown myself in that type of mind-set. I refuse to do that.”

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