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The Mid-Summer Debacle: What Now?

July started with the Orioles still in the thick of things. It ended with not only the team in a complete and utter spiral down the AL East standings, but in something of a state of turmoil. Where do we go from here? What can we even do?

July started harmlessly enough, honestly. The Orioles had three games left in a four game series at home with the Indians, and they lost two of the three, making it three of four in the series. That was bad, but the way things were, it wasn't hard to recover. After all, we had two coming up at Yankee Stadium, followed by four at home with Boston. The Yankees pounded us, 13-8 and 12-3, but we took three of four from the Red Sox to head into the All-Star break on something of a high.

We watched as Miguel Tejada, the game's MVP, and Brian Roberts turned double plays at the All-Star game in Detroit, representing the team well. BJ Ryan got to pitch in the ninth inning of the American League win before handing the ball to Mariano Rivera. It was a weird thing; after years of being ignored and, well, bad, here we were at the midsummer classic, and the Orioles had players there who we as fans could point to and say, "They're as good as anyone else out there."

It was the end of a first-half that exceeded the expectations of most of us, I think. Rafael Palmeiro had been lighting it up after a terrible start in April, and was on a fast track to joining the super elite 3,000-hit/500-homer club. We beat the Mariners in our first game back from the break, and then Raffy got No. 3,000 in the second game of the series, another win. The O's were winning. Raffy was a first-ballot, no doubt about it Hall of Famer, no matter what foolish sportswriters and would-be pundits had to say about him not being a big enough star. In a place that celebrates the career of George Kell (not to dis George Kell), people would question a guy who had done something only Aaron, Mays and Murray had done before him? Please. Get real.

Then we lost two at Seattle. We got one back at Minnesota, starring Erik Bedard's welcome return to the rotation, on the 18th, but then it really started unraveling, with gale-force winds pushing us out of the race. BJ Ryan blew the game on the 19th. BJ Ryan blew it again on the 20th, and got backup from Jason Grimsley. The Devil Rays swept us. What was happening?

The O's ended the post-All-Star break road trip having won just three of the ten games. But we were going back home, to face Texas and the White Sox. Texas beat us on the 25th, but Javy Lopez returned on the 26th to propel us to a 5-4 win with an eighth inning homer to take the lead. Ryan shut the door.

We all know what I'm getting to here, though. In my opinion, the 27th of July is when the bottoming out of this team really started. They were struggling, but they were battling. It took 11 innings and two comebacks that amounted to nothing, but the Rangers beat the O's, 11-8. It was maybe the most back-and-forth, emotional game of the year, a cliche of what most people would tell you to expect from the O's and Rangers: no pitching, lots of offense, and minimal strategy. It was a home run derby, more or less, and the Orioles couldn't keep up.

The next day, the Rangers won 2-1. The White Sox trounced us 7-2, 9-6 and 9-4. We closed out July having lost 13 of 15 games. The trade deadline passed, and like all of baseball, we acquired nothing major, and failed to move Sidney Ponson, but did add a surefire fan favorite in Eric Byrnes.

Most of us probably thought it really couldn't get worse. Then a new month rolled around, and has. At just past noon on August 1st, Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. That story has only gotten more sour in the two days since.

The season is lost. The team is lost. It all gets more predictable and more hopeless by the day. There are times when I think, "Well, I don't want to write stuff that's too down on the team, because we're all fans and at the end of the day, we're rooting for this team to do well." And who wants to read nothing but doom and gloom?

Well, you know what? This is the story now. This is what we've got. A team that had so much hope early in the season has collapsed in miraculous fashion, with even the early-season surprises like Brian Roberts and Bruce Chen going in the tank. And now this Palmeiro hurricane that's raining down on everything that he's accomplished in his career, and everything this team has done this year. Who's going to remember the 2005 Orioles for what they did in April? No one. Sadly, this team is going to be remembered as just another second-rate club; the New Oriole Way. Sometimes a pretender, and never really a contender.

And even if all that had just happened by itself, we had Palmeiro's 3,000th hit. But the huge, celebratory banner hanging on the warehouse to congratulate Palmeiro when the team returned to Camden Yards has become a joke. I'm not as worked-up over the whole thing as some people are, but I have come to understand them. And they're right. Palmeiro is now a question mark in the history books. What did he really do? What does he really mean? And now, for this season, we don't even really have Raffy. That's as big a disappointment as anything.

Both the way this team is playing and Palmeiro's regrettable predicament bring to mind a lyric in a Rosanne Cash song ("September When It Comes"), which features her father, Johnny, and it's in his part: "I cannot be who I was then / In a way, I never was."

And none of this has even touched on a lot of the other things that happened. Pitchers got hit with line drives twice in three days, knocking them out before they could get out of two innings; the day after the second time it happened, Rodrigo Lopez couldn't get out of the second himself, just because he was so bad, killing the bullpen. The team failed to drive in anyone on base, especially if the bases were loaded. It was a continuous torture. It was something to have survived. It was a war of attrition, as the team seemingly battled itself more than anything else.

We the fans will all stick around. We know we're not abandoning this team, even at its most frustrating. But if following a baseball team is indeed a love affair of sorts, and I believe it is, we're sticking with a mate that may well not deserve us. What the team itself does is another matter. Is there any plan of attack for spiraling wildly out of control? Is there any plan of attack, period?

Earl Weaver was quoted as saying, "Don't worry, the fans don't start booing until July." We've been given damn good reason this year.

But, hey -- it can't get any worse, can it?