ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A walk, an error and a wild pitch. That's what decided the Orioles' 2-1 loss to the California Angels here last night.
Oh yes, there was a call at first base that the Orioles insist umpire Terry Craft missed. Television replays seemed to support their contention, but manager John Oates refused to lean on this crutch.
"I don't comment on umpires," said Oates, who has pointedly refrained from engaging in verbal combat with the decision makers since succeeding Frank Robinson as manager. "I don't comment on things we have no control over.
"I do comment on leadoff walks and botched bunts," said Oates. It was a walk to Dave Parker that marred an otherwise excellent performance by starting pitcher Jeff Robinson (4-8).
And it was an error by Juan Bell, filling in for the injured Bill Ripken at second base, on a sacrifice bunt by Gary Gaetti that opened the gates for the Angels.
"It was a routine bunt play," said Oates. "It's a bang-bang play, you see the bunt, you go to first base."
Even though Gaetti had fouled off the first pitch from Robinson while attempting to bunt, there was still some doubt in Bell's mind. "I was playing him to pull," said Bell. "I asked Junior [shortstop Cal Ripken] and he said he didn't know [if Gaetti would still be bunting].
"When I saw him bunt, I ran to first base, but I got there late. I was thinking 'make sure to catch the ball' and trying to touch the base. It [the throw from Robinson] was a little bit behind me and hit off the glove."
Complicating matters was the fact that pinch-runner Luis Sojo was able to advance to third on the play, with Bell's throw in the dirt.
Earlier in the game, Bell had shown the abilities that have some people in the organization convinced he is a major-leaguer. He ranged far over second base and displayed a powerful arm while throwing out Dave Winfield in the fourth inning.
But the routine play, the one that has to be made, sometimes presents problems. "He's got some tools," said Oates, "but he's still learning to play the game. I hope we're all still learning. I hope there isn't anybody around who figures he's learned it all. He [Bell] is also learning a new position [second base, after spending most of his career at shortstop]."
After Bell's error, Mark Williamson replaced Robinson, gave up a sacrifice fly to Lance Parrish, then contributed to the breakdown by unleashing a wild pitch that changed the eighth-inning strategy.
First base being open dictated an intentional walk to lefthanded-hitting Max Venable. Dick Schofield's looping liner just missed being a double play when it hit off the tip of Bell's glove and resulted in a force at second.
That set up the game-deciding play.
Mike Flanagan came in to face Luis Polonia, and instead was confronted by ex-Oriole Dave Gallagher. Third baseman Leo Gomez, whose fifth homer of the season gave the Orioles their only run, made a brilliant diving stop of Gallagher's bouncer down the line, scrambled to his feet and threw a one-hopper to Milligan.
"There was no bobble," said a visibly upset Milligan. "I never came off the bag, not even after I picked [caught] it. If you saw the replay, you know he was out."
Oates doesn't dispute that, but anything he had to say came from the dugout, not on the field.
"I'll go out there when I think they deserve it," said Oates. "But I'm not going out there just to rip, yell, scream or take a cheap shot."
In other words, he's not going to argue merely as a gesture to back up his players. "He [Craft] never should've had to make that call," said Oates. "And the game did not rest alone on Bell covering first.
"We had a chance to get two outs [on the walk and the bunt]. We had a one-run lead and started the eighth inning with a walk and a botched bunt -- it was all downhill after that.
"The game is nine innings," said Oates. "It was a lack of execution, the little things. We had a runner on third with one out [after Mike Devereaux tripled in the third] and took a called third strike [by Tim Hulett]."
The Orioles mounted only one other serious threat against Mark Langston (13-3) and that was in the second inning, when a freak injury may have decided the game. With one out, David Segui drilled a single into the left-centerfield gap. He thought of going for second base, but pulled up when Venable got to the ball in a hurry.
When he stopped, about a third of the way to second, Segui's right ankle rolled over and he crumbled to the ground, powerless to avoid being tagged out on what normally would've been a routine single. Gomez then hit the next pitch far over the fence in left-center.
Call it the fallacy of the predestined home run, but Segui's misfortune took away the Orioles' only real chance to put another run on the scoreboard. After Devereaux hit his triple the following inning, the Orioles managed only two infield hits, one by Bell, the other by Ripken, as Langston notched his fourth complete game of the year.