NEW YORK -- After watching the Orioles get shut out for the second consecutive game -- marking the first time it's happened to the club since April 21-22, 2005 -- there was one question that immediately came to mind: Who turned off the lights?
The Orioles' offense -- an early-season surprise that at one point led the Majors in home runs and seemed to almost always have a timely hit in its back pocket -- has seemingly flipped the switch. Baltimore hasn't scored a run in 21 innings, and with two runs over the last three games -- more than two just once in the last five -- the O's lineup is quickly taking a starring role in the team's woes.
On Tuesday, it resulted in a 5-0 loss to the Mets, giving Baltimore its first series loss since June 1-3 against Tampa Bay. The Orioles were one-hit by R.A. Dickey on Monday, then had no answer Tuesday during Johan Santana's six innings.
"We've run into two guys on the top of their game and I'll give them the credit," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I know our guys are frustrated. ... We've beaten some very good pitchers and to get where we want to go, we're going to [have to find a way to keep doing that]."
Coupled with the Yankees falling, 4-3, to the Braves, the loss keeps the Orioles 2 1/2 games back in the American League East race, with third-place Tampa Bay's win pulling the Rays to within a half-game of Baltimore. The pair of shutouts were the Orioles' first successive defeats in 10 days and gave them nine runs over a five-game stretch, following a 12-run outburst in starter Tommy Hunter's previous outing.
"We threw two shutouts [in Atlanta] and had two thrown against us," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "It is the game, but it is frustrating because we have a good offense. Johan tonight, when we had runners in scoring position, he got the hitters out. He's not one of the game's best pitchers for no reason."
Santana -- who hurled a career-high 134 pitches en route to the first no-hitter in franchise history on June 1 -- scattered four hits and two walks and held the Orioles hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position. Baltimore put the leadoff man on base in the second and fourth but couldn't score, and the Orioles stranded a pair of runners in the sixth.
"His changeup is the equalizer," said catcher Matt Wieters who had two of the Orioles' hits, both doubles, off Santana. "It's something that you really have to be sitting on to stay back on it. It's a good bit slower than his fastball, so it's one of those situations where, if he keeps you from guessing the right pitch, he's going to be tough to hit."
Santana, who has made a living off his command, followed Dickey's dominant outing by picking up his first quality start in three outings since the no-no.
"He had life to his fastball," said Mets manager Terry Collins of the difference in Santana Tuesday night. "His breaking ball had much better depth to it. His changeup has always been a good pitch, but [he had] much better command."
Hunter, long overdue for a quality outing, couldn't match Santana, as the 25-year-old continues to struggle with home runs. After limiting the Mets to one run in a bases-loaded spot in the fourth, Hunter served up a cutter that didn't move to Lucas Duda, who crushed it for a two-run homer in the sixth.
It was the 18th home run allowed by Hunter this season -- tied with the Angels' Ervin Santana for most in the Majors. Hunter has given up at least one long ball in 11 of 13 starts this season. He was also charged with two earned runs, which scored after he left the game.
"Tommy's fine," Showalter said. "Tommy wasn't our issue. Our issue was trying to figure out a way to do something with Santana. I can't fault our starting pitchers either night."
The offense was again silent in Tuesday's loss, which drops the Orioles to 39-29 on the season. The lineup is weakened without Nick Markakis, and the team is playing in National League parks against a tough Mets staff. Hunter, for one, said he knew his teammates would find their rhythm soon enough.
"These guys will score runs," he said. "That's not a question. It's a matter of time. Unfortunately, the last two nights, they pitched well. You've got to tip your cap. Maybe if we pitched a little better, the games would still be going on. We meaning me."
"What's the difference of losing two games back to back if we lose by one run as opposed to being shut out?," Jones said. "It's two losses, no matter how you want to look at it. Two-game losing streak. Now, we've got to salvage the series, come out and not get swept. They're a good team. You've got to give them credit, but we're a good team also. We just have to do our part."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.