OAKLAND -- It hurt too much to laugh or cry, but at least Mark Williamson could muster a smile. Not that it was easy.
"I'm trying to keep a good frame of mind about it," Williamson said after his ego and ERA were equally bruised in the Orioles' 9-3 loss to Oakland here yesterday. "I was trying to do the right things -- I just didn't get the ball in the right places."
In the two games against the A's, the ball rarely ended up in the right place for the Orioles. It usually ended up on the other side of the fence, sending many runners in motion.
The Orioles gave up 20 runs in the two games -- eight more than they surrendered in four games against California. They can spend today licking their wounds before their next game, tomorrow night in Seattle.
Williamson's effort here yesterday seemed to typify the season to date.
Usually reliable, always resilient, Williamson has been a durable bullpen workhorse. But yesterday he would've had more luck pitching batting practice.
He faced four batters and pitched for the cycle -- a single (Jose Canseco), double (Terry Steinbach), triple (Willie Wilson) and home run (Mark McGwire). Undoubtedly this had to be a first, right? Wrong.
"It's the second time," Williamson admitted wryly. "I did it against these guys here once before."
Not, however, against only four hitters.
"No," said Williamson, slowly shaking his head. "Four hitters . . . that's pretty impressive.
"I don't know what it is about this ballpark, I just never really pitch well here."
The team that wears the white, green and gold home uniforms might have something to do with it, but it went beyond that for Williamson yesterday. "I had Canseco 0-and-2 and all I'm thinking is throw the heater [fastball] in -- and it goes down and away.
"McGwire, you can't throw him anything down over the inner half of the plate, so I go low and away and the wind takes the ball right back to him. I was looking for somebody to remove the magnet."
You get the picture -- the Orioles are giving a new baseball meaning to the word ugly.
When manager Frank Robinson was asked what was wrong with his team, he got that glazed look in his eyes. "That's the easiest question I've ever had to answer," he said.
"We aren't hitting, and we aren't pitching. Other than that, everything is fine."
But it is a lot deeper than that, more like a Catch-22 situation. It's a lot easier to pitch with a lead -- and a lot easier to hit when the score is not already out of reach.
Right now the Orioles can't seem to avoid either situation. "Too many big innings are taking us out of games before the sixth inning," said Robinson.
He's right about that. Two nights ago the A's scored four runs in the first inning. Yesterday they started with three, then doubled that total in the fifth inning.
The combined score for the two games: 20-6.
Yesterday Mike Flanagan, on a day's notice, made his first start of the year and the veteran lefthander bore the brunt of the A's attack along with Williamson. When the carnage was over, both pitchers, without attempting to excuse their performances, had similar thoughts.
"Sometimes you've got to be luckier than good," said Flanagan. "The first ball is on the chalk [Rickey Henderson's leadoff double on the leftfield line], then there's a bunt [for a single by Dave Henderson] and a bad pitch."
Presto: A's 3, O's 0.
"I didn't feel real good in the first inning," admitted Flanagan, "but after that I was fine. I could've continued if necessary."
If possible would be a better description for Flanagan, who hasn't pitched more than five innings in a league game since 1989. The A's defense thwarted the Orioles' big chance to recover, just as it had done the night before, and Rickey Henderson's leadoff homer in the fifth made it 4-0. When Dave Henderson followed with a single, Robinson's only choice in an effort to stay close was to summons Williamson.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, the only thing Williamson could contribute was his pitching-for-the-cycle act, which removed any doubts about the outcome.
"Right now we can't catch a break," said Williamson, doing his best to remain upbeat. "We've been hitting the ball well lately, which is a good sign. Before we weren't doing that, but now we are -- we just need to get a few more through."
Two nights ago, with the score 6-1, Mike Gallego made an excellent play to rob Joe Orsulak of a bases-loaded single. Yesterday, with the score 3-0, it was shortstop Walt Weiss who made a leaping catch of a line drive hit by Bob Melvin with the bases loaded.
It is significant to note that the Orioles were already substantially behind -- and there were two outs -- in each instance. But that didn't deter speculation of what might have been.
"If those balls get through we're back in it both times," said Williamson. "It would be nice if a few of the breaks started coming our way."
It could also be pointed out, as the saying goes, that if "ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."
At the moment the Orioles have an over-abundance of ifs and buts. And even though today is an off day, it's not a holiday -- and Christmas seems like an awfully long time away.