Merry-go-round of misery

Tim Brown

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SAN DIEGO – Second baseman Brian Roberts stood Tuesday afternoon deflated.

Sam Perlozzo was gone. But, it seemed, it wasn't so much Perlozzo, but another man gone, another guy in the office across from the home clubhouse, another Baltimore Orioles season explained away by knocking the manager off the top step.

Before Perlozzo was Lee Mazzilli, and before him was Mike Hargrove, and that's just since Roberts showed up six years ago.

The new man is Trembley, and you might be too, given the same situation. He's the interim between the unofficial interims.

By all indications, Joe Girardi could have Dave Trembley's job within the week, as the Girardi interviews have gone well and the organization has its heart set on last season's National League Manager of the Year. The commissioner's office already has contacted the Orioles about adhering to its policy of considering minority candidates, which might lengthen the process, but this is Girardi's gig if he wants it.

Then Girardi would be the new manager under the new chief operating officer, that being Andy MacPhail, the announcement for which is expected Wednesday. And, then, one of these years, the team will get around to announcing its new players, because that's really been the issue all along, more so than a couple months of burning out the bullpen, which is what Perlozzo did, or a couple months of motivating Melvin Mora, which is what Perlozzo couldn't do.

Roberts' shoulders sagged under the tedium. The Orioles arrived for a three-game series here 11 games under .500, 15 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, in last place. They'd lost eight in a row. They were fast becoming the 10th consecutive Orioles team with a losing record and, to Roberts, it seemed like just so much noise.

"I don't know," he said. "I've seen managers come and go here. I just want to play baseball. I'm not saying it's the right move one way or the other. I don't care, to tell you the truth. It gets old. I'm tired of losing. I'm tired of new managers. I'm tired of it all."

There's a quote that probably won't replace "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee."

Not 30 minutes later, a 55-year-old baseball lifer who'd managed nearly 2,800 minor-league games all but shook in the excitement of it. The clock already ticking on the Trembley era, he ordered infield practice after batting practice. In the major leagues, taking infield has gone the way of taking responsibility, and yet there were the Orioles, hum-babin' it around the horn as the grounds crew rolled the batting cage through the outfield.

"It's not punishment," Trembley said. "I'm not here to punish anybody. I want to help them. I can't possibly imagine it can keep going the way it's going. That's not baseball."

He met with the Orioles on Tuesday afternoon, the players who saw six weeks of decent baseball only become more ugliness; 11 wins over the next five weeks, an offense turn mild, a bullpen succumb to its early labors. Once among the game's stalwart franchises, the Orioles might not put two million people into Camden Yards this season, barely half what it drew a decade ago.

"What these guys need is a return to playing the game the right way," Trembley said. "A return to what got 'em here.

"They've been wounded. Their egos are really fragile."

What they really need is new teammates. The rotation is down Adam Loewen, Kris Benson and Jaret Wright. Together, they made nine starts. Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Burres, waiver claims from, respectively, Cleveland and San Francisco, have saved some of it, and Steve Trachsel was a late and fortunate find.

The position players are a collection of mostly designated-hitter types and not very athletic complementary parts, particularly now that Miguel Tejada is on the downside and owner Peter Angelos repeatedly vetoed trades that would have made the Orioles younger and deeper and better.

Since Cal Ripken Jr., the farm system has produced a couple position players of any note – Roberts and outfielder Nick Markakis come to mind. Recent free agents such as Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado rejected the Orioles as well, meaning the organization has neither produced nor bought enough talent, and still pushed its payroll well above $90 million.

Speaking primarily of this season, general manager Jim Duquette said, "The lack of offensive production has put a strain on the entire pitching staff. That's, I think, the main reason we are where we are. Unfortunately, Sam ends up suffering for the way the team has played."

The possibility exists that MacPhail and Girardi can shove the Orioles toward something respectable. MacPhail, who once found Angelos difficult, warmed to the owner during the recent collective bargaining while they negotiated together against the players' union. MacPhail is a bright guy who nonetheless found the Chicago Cubs to be too much of a handful, and the Orioles won't be any easier. He's been assured he'll run the team without interference. Girardi would carry the conscience of a disciplinarian and the credentials of a former player and winner.

Roberts has seen them come and go before, all with big plans and bright futures and honest efforts.

And, at the end of the day, he said, "We're still 11 games under .500."

At least he got to take infield.