SEATTLE -- This one should have been under lock and key.
Despite several missed opportunities early, there was a three-run lead with seven outs remaining. The best starting pitcher was working on a string of 13 successive outs. And one of the baseball's best closers was well-rested and waiting for the call in the bullpen.
Nobody is supposed to lose these kinds of games.
But the Orioles these days are not only defying the rules of logic, they're also doing a number on the law of averages.
Just when the road trip -- the Orioles were 3-5 on the West Coast going into yesterday's finale -- was starting to look encouraging, with the Orioles on the verge of two straight impressive wins, the bottom fell out. Again.
A two-out walk and a two-run homer tarnished Ben McDonald's performance and then a pair of two-out hits finished reliever Gregg Olson, and the Orioles. The Mariners didn't even need their last three allotted outs, staging the winning rally in the eighth inning.
The 5-4 victory enabled Seattle to move into second place in the American League West -- and pushed the Orioles back into last place in the AL East.
"Is this the toughest?" Orioles manager Frank Robinson said, repeating a question he's been hearing a lot lately. The managerial handbook says all losses are tough, none more than another, and Robinson generally subscribes to the theory.
But the theory has holes, and everybody knows it. The Orioles have had a lot of "toughest" losses lately, but the most recent always takes precedence.
"It's difficult because of the situation," said Robinson. "Another one gets away from you -- and you have to start over."
The key word in that sentence is "another." These losses seem to hit the Orioles any time they show signs of progress.
"There's been a lot of tough losses already," said Olson, who was tagged with his first loss while his earned run average jumped from 0.96 to 3.00. "It's tough on me personally because the team played a good game and I lost control of it."
Olson gave up three singles and a walk after making an early appearance in the eighth inning. In the seventh, while working on a two-hitter, McDonald gave up a two-run homer to Alvin Davis, who dragged a .176 average into the game.
The game actually turned when McDonald walked the batter ahead of Davis, Pete O'Brien, and neither the pitcher nor his manager had enough time to figure out what happened. McDonald had retired 13 in a row before that and appeared in complete control.
Did he tire that rapidly? "I don't know," said Robinson. "He got the first two [Ken Griffey Sr. and Edgar Martinez] out all right. Then he walked a guy and threw Davis a fastball down the chute."
McDonald figured he was near his pitch limit, but had no indication his departure was imminent. "I didn't feel tired," he said. "I felt strong and was still throwing hard.
"It just seems like every time I walk somebody they score. The pitch to Davis was in the right location, maybe up a little bit.
"I wanted to get ahead of him. I didn't want a walk in that situation," McDonald said. "I'd rather they hit one off my chest, or my ankle, than walk."
He doesn't prefer, however, that they hit the ball into the seats, which is what Davis did.
"And then," said McDonald, "to walk the little guy on top of it . . . that was too much."
It was too much for Robinson, and just enough time for Mark Williamson to get ready and come in from the bullpen to get the final out.
Then it was decision time for Robinson once again. Normally he doesn't like to use Olson until the ninth inning. But his chances so far this year have been far too few, as the Orioles' won-lost record will attest.
"It's nothing against any of the other guys," said Robinson, "but I would've kicked myself if I sent anybody else out there and we lost.
"It was a one-run game, we haven't been able to get him [Olson] out there, he was well-rested and we had an off-day [today]. It was his game to save. If you're going to lose, you've got to lose with your best," said Robinson, who ended up doing just that.
"It was one of those games," said Olson. "Basically I didn't have command of either pitch [fastball or curve]. That's the best way to describe it. That's why I could only get strikes with two curveballs -- and they were both to O'Brien."
Olson actually got hurt with both of his pitches. Edgar Martinez, after fouling off a 3-and-2 curve, got the game-tying hit on a fastball. Then O'Brien, having seen a couple of breaking pitches, measured one that stayed up and hit a double to drive in the game-winner.
"I couldn't get the curveball over, and the fastball wasn't good enough to go on its own," said Olson.
The final score highlighted the pitching failures at the end, but this was another one of those games the Orioles should have put away early.
They missed a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first inning when Randy Milligan struck out and Martinez made a great play on Bob Melvin's hard grounder over third base. Two innings later, after Cal Ripken doubled in two runs, Milligan hit into ` `TC double play with runners on first and second and nobody out. Then, after Ripken homered in the fifth, a bases-loaded, no-out situation produced only one run, on Craig Worthington's double-play bouncer.
Once lefthander Randy Johnson left, the Orioles had no more opportunities. Bill Swift and Mike Jackson retired the last 14 hitters they faced.
Instead of a mild comeback on a tough road trip, the Orioles left the West Coast with a 3-6 record for the trip. They returned home wondering when, or if, things would improve.