MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins brought in a violinist to serenade the Metrodome crowd last night, but the accompaniment seemed more suited to the sad, sad saga of the Baltimore Orioles.
New York soloist Robert McDuffie fiddled and the Orioles burned, though they had no one to blame but themselves for the 4-3 loss that sent them back to Baltimore on the wrong end of a three-game sweep.
There was no umpiring controversy on this night, just some poor defense, some questionable base-running and -- of course -- a decided lack of offensive production.
Twins starter Kevin Tapani held the Orioles to a run on seven hits through 7 2/3 innings to defeat Jose Mesa and break a personal six-game losing streak. Randy Milligan and David Segui made it interesting with back-to-back, bases-empty home runs off Twins stopper Rick Aguilera in the ninth, but the Orioles lost for the eighth time in 13 games under manager John Oates and returned home to open a four-game series against the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
What had begun as a very promising trip ended with that promise broken. The Orioles took three of four games from the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and still ended up 3-4 for their week on the road after three straight one-run losses to the Twins.
The pitching was good -- sometimes very good -- but the Orioles scored just eight runs in three games at a ballpark known for its crazy bounces and cozy dimensions.
"It was the same old story all three nights," said Oates, who is 1-6 in one-run games. "We pitched well. I have no complaints about the pitching. We gave them at least one run tonight, but overall, the defense and fundamentals have been good. We just didn't have too much going offensively tonight."
Mesa was the most consistent Orioles starter through the first four weeks of the season, but he has given up four runs or more in five of his past six starts. Last night, he gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits over 5 1/3 innings to suffer his sixth loss in 10 decisions.
He was 3-3 with a 2.23 ERA in his first six starts and is 1-3 with a 6.42 ERA in his past six. His previous time out, he gave up seven runs and 11 hits over 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Red Sox on Friday night.
In that game, Mesa gave up six runs in the first two innings. This time, he seemed determined to avoid an early-inning blowup, holding the Twins hitless until Chili Davis chopped an artificial-turf-aided single over Milligan with two outs in the fourth inning.
The Twins took the lead in the fifth on a leadoff single by Mike Pagliarulo and a two-run homer by rookie catcher Lenny Webster, who was appearing in only his second major-league game of the season. He had also homered in his first game.
The pitch was down in the strike zone, but Webster reached out and lined it 414 feet into the bleachers in right-center field.
"That was the best pitch I threw all night," Mesa said. "They called for a fastball down and in, and I threw it right to that spot. I thought I had my best stuff tonight."
Mesa has not been particularly susceptible to the home run ball this year. He had given up four in the 68 2/3 innings leading up to last night's game -- the lowest homer-to-inning ratio in the Orioles starting rotation.
He held the Twins in check long enough to expect some offensive support, but his teammates were not quick to go on the attack against Tapani, who had proved vulnerable (10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) in his two starts against the Orioles in 1990.
Tapani has proved vulnerable against everyone the past few weeks. He came into the game with six consecutive losses, but (( was not seriously threatened until the Orioles took advantage of two singles and a walk to score a run in the sixth.
Mike Devereaux opened the inning with his second single of the game and Tim Hulett followed with a base on balls, bringing the league's hottest hitter to the plate in the person of shortstop Cal Ripken.
Ripken would prove human this time, popping out to short, but Joe Orsulak delivered a soft single to left to bring home Devereaux. The Orioles might have gotten more if they had taken advantage of an errant throw to the plate that hit Devereaux and allowed Hulett to take third, but Webster alertly retrieved the ball and threw out Orsulak trying to go to second. Sam Horn fouled out to end the inning.
The Twins took advantage of some faulty fielding by the Orioles in the bottom of that inning to stretch their lead to three runs.
Kent Hrbek got Minnesota started with a sharp single to right, but the inning turned on a bouncer by Davis that skipped by second baseman Juan Bell for a questionable hit. Shane Mack followed with a single to center that scored Hrbek, and the Twins got another run when first baseman Milligan cut off a throw to the plate and bounced a throw off a sliding Mack at second. The throw ended up in left field, allowing Davis to score and Mack to go to third.
"I shouldn't have thrown the ball," Milligan said.
Site: Memorial Stadium
Blue Jays starter: Jim Acker (1-3, 4.61)
Orioles starter: Bob Milacki (1-2, 3.62)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)