MILWAUKEE -- Right-hander J.J. Bautista couldn't have picked a worse time to throw a high fastball to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Robin Yount.
The immediate result was a two-out home run in the 11th inning that sent the Baltimore Orioles to a 4-3 defeat yesterday at Milwaukee County Stadium. The long-term ramifications might be even more dismal, since pitchers Ben McDonald and Bob Milacki both appear ready to return to the major-league roster.
Someone is going to have to step aside, and Bautista is beginning to look like the leading candidate.
He has pitched in four games and has not been particularly effective in any of them. In his previous appearance, he gave up eight runs and nine hits in three innings. This time, he sent left fielder Joe Orsulak to the wall to pull down a long drive by Paul Molitor and served up the 400-foot center-field shot to Yount.
The home run erased the strongest performance of the year by starter Jeff Ballard and another outstanding relief effort by left-hander Mike Flanagan. It even overshadowed a frightening defensive performance by first baseman Glenn Davis, who made three errors and easily could have been charged with a fourth.
Bautista was one of the most effective pitchers in spring training (2-0, 0.66 ERA), but in 4 1/3 innings of regular-season relief, he has given up 10 earned runs, 13 hits and four walks. Opposing hitters are batting .500 against him.
"It's been very tough," a dejected Bautista said. "I don't know what's wrong. I feel like I'm throwing the same way [as spring], but I know that I'm doing something wrong. I try to throw strikes, but that's what happens when you get the ball up to a guy like that in that situation."
Molitor almost ended it a couple of minutes earlier. His drive to left would have hit high up the fence if Orsulak had not caught it. Bautista had just entered the game in relief of Flanagan, who pitched three hitless innings to keep the Orioles in the game.
Ballard had left after he gave up four hits over 6 1/3 innings, turning a 3-2 lead over to Mark Williamson in the seventh. It was the best of Ballard's first three starts, but he had to settle for a no-decision after Williamson allowed a game-tying double to Gary Sheffield.
"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong," manager Frank Robinson said. "Was it particularly disturbing? It's always disturbing when you get a well-pitched game from your pitchers and don't walk away with a win. We couldn't have asked Ballard or Flanagan to do any more than they did."
Davis accepted some of the blame after one of the worst defensive performances of his career. He committed errors on three ground balls and almost got another when he missed a throw from second baseman Bill Ripken. He also botched a rundown play and nearly fell down fielding another ground ball, but his entire body of work led to only one unearned run.
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry or what," Davis said afterward. "It's upsetting personally to me, but you have to laugh in one sense. I guess I'm just lucky it didn't hurt the team even more."
His third error -- with two out in the ninth inning -- led to the throwing error by Ripken, who retrieved the ball and tried to rush a throw back to first. It glanced off Davis' glove, allowing a runner to advance to third, and would have hastened the game's end if third baseman Leo Gomez had not made a spectacular diving stab to rob Dante Bichette of an RBI single.
Davis said that he should have caught the ball. If the official scorer had agreed and Gomez had not intervened, Davis would have equaled the American League record for errors by a first baseman in a nine-inning game. He also would have equaled in a single game the number of errors he committed all last season.
"I have no excuses," he said. "I messed those plays up. That was my worst day in the field by far. I remember a day at Wrigley Field when I lost two pop-ups in the sun, but I have no excuses for the ground balls."
In one game, the Orioles went from being one of the best defensive teams in the league (in terms of fielding percentage) to being one of the worst. They entered the game ranked fourth at .989 and dropped into the lower reaches of the fielding ranks at .978.
But the defensive performance was not the entire story. The Brewers bullpen bailed out starter Mark Knudson with 8 2/3 innings of one-hit relief.
The Orioles scored three runs off Knudson in the first three innings, two of them on a two-run single by Sam Horn in the third, but Julio Machado gave up one hit over three innings and rookie Darren Holmes pitched 4 2/3 perfect innings before Edwin Nunez worked a hitless 11th to get the victory.
Ballard had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the third, but he gave up back-to-back hits to Molitor and Yount with one out and paid heavily for them when Sheffield drove in a run with a ground out and Davis allowed another with his first error of the game.