ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was a meeting-full, but hardly meaningful, day for the Orioles.
A sure sign of a team in trouble is when the meetings start outnumbering the wins. In the last five days the Orioles have had more meetings (three) than victories (two). And the only effect they've had is to add to the frustration.
Yesterday, manager Frank Robinson had 100 minutes worth of meetings -- 80 with his coaching staff before the game and 20 with his dazed troops after it. For the first time the ineffectiveness of a team that is (was?) expected to be a contender appears to be getting to the manager. For a full two minutes after yesterday's daffy 6-4 loss to California, Robinson sat alone in the dugout, collecting his thoughts.
Until now he has remained relatively upbeat during a disappointing 8-14 start, but yesterday's mesmerizing defeat appeared to hit him like a hammer. He may have gotten a few things off his chest during the 20-minute post-game meeting, but it didn't make him feel any better.
"I don't know if I'm down," he said, "or whether I'm just starting to pick up that we don't seem to be getting any better. We're playing the same way -- we're just not in sync in any phase of the game -- pitching, hitting, running or fielding. And this game was a perfect example of that."
Robinson could have added thinking to his list, because one mental error in the fourth inning may have turned yesterday's game around. Craig Worthington thought he had a take sign when Chris Hoiles was running, and easily thrown out, on a 3-and-1 pitch with nobody out.
"I don't know that I've ever put a take sign on for a 3-and-1 pitch when we've been ahead in a game," said Robinson, whose Orioles were up 2-0 at the time. "But, what can you do if somebody thinks they saw a sign?"
The fact that Worthington and Tim Hulett followed with singles against a struggling Jim Abbott, and that the Angels later that inning contributed a run with a botched double-play ball, merely accentuated the negative. By the time Robinson acknowledged there had been a mix-up with signs, the clubhouse had cleared, so no further explanations were available -- not that it would have mattered.
It was a day that saw not one, but both Ripkens make an error. Leftfielder Brady Anderson lost a ball off the bat for an instant. Jeff Ballard picked the worst possible time to throw a home run pitch and spoil an otherwise solid performance. The Orioles' sputtering offense missed another chance to drive the final nail. Three of the Angels' runs were unearned and another was undeserved.
The bad news was the Orioles made enough mistakes to lose at least three games. The good news was they only lost one. "When I came in here [the clubhouse] I didn't know if we lost or won," Robinson said wryly, referring to the abundance of mistakes. He didn't mean it as a joke.
Which is why he closed the clubhouse for a post-game lecture. He wouldn't go into specifics. "It was a little bit of everything," he said. "I had some things I wanted to say, and I said them."
The discussion was one-way, with Robinson the only speaker. "When I have a meeting I don't ask questions," he said. "And I don't point fingers either. If I want to say something to a player I do that one-on-one.
"I didn't want anybody who played to think they escaped, that they didn't have a hand in what happened. It's not necessary to say who they are -- they know."
Robinson emphasized that of all the things that are bothering him, attitude or effort are not among them. Neither is he concerned about the team getting used to losing.
"No, that's not a problem," he said. "We've been ready to go out and play. We're fully prepared. We know what to do. We're just not doing those things we have to do to win."
Yesterday's game was typical of many the Orioles have played this year. "We throw in one of those ugly innings and we're out of the game," said Robinson.
"We were going against a pitcher who has been struggling [0-4], we get two runs, they give us one, and we get one more. To me, we didn't do anything offensively after the first inning."
The Orioles lost their 3-0 lead before Ballard recorded an out in the fourth inning. After Luis Sojo led off with a single, Wally Joyner hit a catchable drive to left-centerfield that dropped untouched for a double.
"I lost it for a step," admitted Anderson, who never appeared to have a sight on the ball. Ballard's next pitch, to Gary Gaetti, produced that unmistakable, horrible sound that pitchers interpret instantly.
"It was bad pitch selection," said Ballard, who had allowed only one hit in the first three innings. "I'm sure Gaetti was looking for the first fastball he sees."
An infield hit by Dave Winfield and Bill Ripken's error with two outs set the table for California's dessert. A double by Dick Schofield and a triple by Luis Polonia quickly had the Orioles staring at a 6-3 deficit.
"I was throwing good enough to make the pitch to get out of the inning, and I didn't do it," said Ballard. "I look at it as my fault. It makes me feel bad. When you have a three-run lead, you have to be able to get out of the inning and I didn't do it."
The game and the post-game meeting left the Orioles' clubhouse as quiet, and deserted, as it has been in the last three years. "There were some things that had to be said," said Ballard. "Today was one of those games we should have won. Right now we're just not getting it done."
And it's going to take more than closed-door meetings to get this mess straightened out.