The Baltimore Orioles are supplying their fans with more heartbreaking stories than a country-western band lately.
The latest example -- the third straight one-run defeat -- came last night at Memorial Stadium when the Cleveland Indians extended the Orioles' losing streak to a season-high five with a 3-2 verdict before 23,338.
Some of them left early, resigned to the first Memorial Day at Memorial Stadium when the home team did not win (doubleheader splits included).
The weather stayed sultry, but the Orioles stayed icy in a game that served mostly to end the doldrums of setup man Mark Williamson, who threw as well as he has all year to keep the team in the game.
Bob Milacki labored through the fifth inning as the Indians tied the game at 2, and manager John Oates was prepared "to make the move then if there were any more damage."
Milacki wriggled out of the jam that included a home run by Brook Jacoby, his 13th lifetime against the Orioles, a double by Alex Cole and a run-scoring single by Felix Fermin.
But he was wilting in the 93-degree heat, and rookie Beau Allred proved it, leading off the sixth with a home run on a 3-1 pitch that finished Milacki and decided the outcome.
Milacki has allowed four home runs in his past 10 2/3 innings, but Oates was stressing the one walk he issued as a positive sign.
"If he's pitching like that, no way you take him out of the rotation," said Oates. "If he can go five shutout innings [one more than last night] every time, we'll take it. You'd like to have four guys doing that."
Milacki was pitching for the third time in a week -- on four days' rest after going five innings in relief at Detroit following a less-than-stellar first start two nights earlier (two-thirds of an inning, five walks).
"And in between those two, he was up six times in the bullpen," said Oates. "He just didn't have any pop left."
It was the third straight creditable effort by the rotation, but more important was the emergence of Williamson, an important man on the staff, who had been racked for 13 earned runs in nine appearances spanning 7 1/3 innings, fattening his ERA to 6.64.
Last night, Williamson challenged hitters, threw 31 of 49 pitches for strikes, struck out four in a row at one stage and permitted one ground-ball single in four innings.
"Without a doubt, that's the best I've thrown," he said. "I finally hit a rhythm and knew where the baseball was going. It's been a little bit tough of late. Hopefully, this is the start of something good.
"Warming up, I felt like doo-doo. This was actually one of those things. My mechanics were good. Elrod [coach Elrod Hendricks] said I had been striding about six inches short. So I found a hole a little farther out to reach."
Getting the starters and Williamson in gear have been top priorities of the new manager, who next must turn attention to the offense, which went to sleep after a two-run fourth against Tom Candiotti during which the second run scored when Allred bobbled a single in right field.
There were some close calls, the kind that go foul or just miss the opening when a team is going as badly as the Orioles. Sam Horn's shot just foul in the fourth inning. Ernie Whitt's in the ninth. A ground ball by Randy Milligan that barely missed going through and wound up as a double play.
Still the Orioles had chances against knuckleballer Candiotti, now fourth in the American League ERA race (2.38) and Shawn Hillegas, but couldn't produce the killing blow.
In the sixth and seventh, they had men in scoring position with two out and they finished the game with men on first and third.
Oates said he did not consider hitting for Juan Bell (two strikeouts earlier) in the seventh with Chris Hoiles on, preferring to save the guns for the ninth. "I wouldn't have started him if I wanted to hit for him that early," he said.
Bell was playing because Bill Ripken's back was bothering him and he "told me he'd like a day off" said Oates, who nonetheless had to use Ripken as a pinch runner in the ninth.
Bell struck out again, then Mike Devereaux followed with a hit that could have tied the game.
"I see them trying so hard, battling," said Oates. "Sometimes they may try a little too hard. Guys are still pulling for each other in the dugout, but upstairs they don't care how much you hustle. The thing is to win.
"I'm anxious. I don't want to move down there with Frank [Robinson, 15 losses in a row] or Paul [Richards, six]."
Orioles fourth: Devereaux singled to short. Anderson flied out on bunt to first baseman Jacoby. C.Ripken singled to center, Devereaux to second. Orsulak singled to right, Devereaux to third, C.Ripken to second. Milligan singled to right, Devereaux scored, C.Ripken to third, Orsulak to second, and on right fielder Allred's fielding error, C.Ripken scored. Horn struck out. Hulett struck out. 2 runs, 4 hits, 1 error, 2 left on. Orioles 2, Indians 0.
Indians fifth: Jacoby homered to left on 1-0 count. Skinner singled past second. Lewis fouled out to first baseman Milligan. Cole doubled to right, Skinner to third. Fermin singled to right, Skinner scored, Cole to third. Baerga grounded into fielder's choice, first baseman Milligan to catcher Hoiles, Cole out at home, Fermin to second. Belle grounded out to pitcher Milacki. 2 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Indians 2, Orioles 2 .
Indians sixth: Allred homered to right on 3-1 count. With 1-0 count on James, Williamson relieved Milacki. James grounded out to third baseman Hulett. Jacoby grounded out to pitcher Williamson. Skinner singled past short. Lewis grounded into fielder's choice, shortstop C.Ripken to second baseman Bell, Skinner forced at second. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Indians 3, Orioles 2.