Now, even Mike Flanagan is having trouble getting the key hitters out.
With the lead on the line last night, Flanagan replaced Roy Smith in the seventh inning at Memorial Stadium -- and surrendered a two-run homer to Ozzie Guillen, of all people.
That was all the Chicago White Sox needed to overcome the Baltimore Orioles and win their sixth straight game, 6-4, before 39,494 fans.
Flanagan has been reliably effective this season while adapting to a relief role after a distinguished career as a starter.
He had the third-best relief ERA in the American League and had yielded no runs in eight appearances and only two in 21 entering the game.
The move was automatic for manager John Oates, although Smith had pitched strongly since the first inning, when Carlton Fisk hit a three-run homer to put the Orioles behind by three or more runs before the fourth inning for the 34th time.
But Guillen lined Flanagan's first pitch into the right-field stands to give the White Sox a 5-4 lead and collect his first homer in exactly a year. He connected Aug. 10, 1990, against Nolan Ryan at old Comiskey Park.
In seven major-league seasons, Guillen has eight homers.
"Like Harry Caray once said of me, 'John Oates hit his annual home run,' " said the Orioles manager.
"I made a bad pitch, and he hit it," said Flanagan, who had faced 100 previous left-handers and allowed one homer (to the Seattle Mariners' Alvin Davis). "It was a curveball. He's always been tough on me, because you know he's going to be slashing."
The White Sox went on to score another run in the inning on an infield hit by Tim Raines, a looping single by Robin Ventura and a ground single by Frank Thomas before Flanagan escaped.
That run also cost the Orioles, who ran into the stonewalling White Sox bullpen again, failing to manage a base-runner in the last three innings against Donn Paul and Bobby Thigpen.
"They all hurt, especially late," said Flanagan. "Every run matters."
Oates said: "In that same situation, I would make the same move again and again. If I leave Roy in there and he gives up a base hit, I'm buried."
It was logical. With a runner at third, the Orioles faced three straight left-handed hitters (they prefer Raines to bat that way). Flanagan was more likely to strike out a hitter or get a ground ball with the infield up and one out.
"I have no problem bringing Flanagan in in any situation with the game on the line," said Oates. "Tonight, he got beat. That hasn't happened a whole lot this year."
Guillen said he doesn't relish facing Flanagan and "can't remember the last time I got a hit off him. He is one of the toughest pitchers in the American League vs. left-handed batters. I just got the right hit at the right place."
The blow scored Warren Newson, who had doubled off Smith and moved to third on a sacrifice, setting up the possibility of a squeeze with Guillen at the plate.
"You're always aware of that," said Flanagan. "You have a play set up. But you still have to make a good pitch."
That doomed the Orioles to their fourth straight loss and 19th in 29 games since the All-Star break. They have dropped eight of the past nine at home and are 23 games under .500 for the first time since 1988.
Smith produced a respectable outing after being raked for 12 runs in only seven innings during his previous three starts.
The Orioles fought back to take the lead after Fisk's shot, with Cal Ripken climaxing a three-run rally with an RBI single, then homering in the fifth inning for a 4-3 edge.
But once the White Sox regained the lead, the result was practically guaranteed. Their bullpen has pitched 31 straight scoreless innings, including 8 1/3 in this series in which one man has reached base.
Flanagan settled in after his initial problems and retired seven straight batters, but the damage was behind him.
"I never try to hit a home run against anyone," said Guillen. "I just got the right pitch and hit it hard."
It was as simple as that.