MILWAUKEE -- The Baltimore Orioles were beginning to have delusions of adequacy, but their longest winning streak of the year came to an abrupt end last night at County Stadium.
The Milwaukee Brewers came back from an early three-run deficit to knock Dave Johnson and Roy Smith all over the ballpark on the way to an 8-5 victory in the opener of a three-game series.
The fifth-place Brewers have been punishing the Orioles all year, winning eight of the first 11 games between two of the American League's most disappointing teams. This time, they put an end to a season-high five-game Orioles winning streak that began the day after the no-hitter that Chicago White Sox rookie Wilson Alvarez pitched at Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
There was little danger of anyone turning in an impressive pitching performance last night. Brewers starter Don August gave up 10 hits over 6 1/3 innings on the way to his ninth victory, but he needed a ton of offensive support get him out of the early innings with a lead.
Johnson gave up four runs on five hits over 2 1/3 innings and left with his place in the starting rotation no longer assured. Smith came on to pitch the next 2 1/3 innings and also gave up four runs to take the loss, which dropped his record to 5-4.
"Obviously, I'm concerned," said Johnson, who has pitched a total of 3 2/3 innings in his past two starts. "It's a situation where John Oates told me I will be allowed to go out there and take my lumps like Jeff Ballard and Jeff Robinson, but there's a difference between taking some lumps and getting blown out in two innings. It's embarrassing. I'm better than this. I'm not this bad."
Smith has to be feeling the same way. He pitched into the seventh inning in his last start, but he was removed from the starting rotation to make room for Jose Mesa. Now, he must prove himself in two-inning increments, which can't be easy for a career starter.
Oates sympathizes with both of them, but he will not rule out more changes in the pitching staff.
"There will be more meetings," Oates said. "The idea is to try and make this the best club we can. Roland [Hemond], Frank [Robinson], Doug [Melvin] and I are having daily conversations on what to do.
"We're not anxious to push Roy or Dave out of the rotation, but if there is somebody better, we'll use him. If not, we won't make any change."
The Orioles youth movement marches on. It has been the driving force behind the club's sudden offensive resurgence, but another big blast by rookie third baseman Leo Gomez was not enough to keep the club's winning streak alive.
Gomez has pulled out of a lengthy slump with four home runs in his past 19 at-bats -- the latest a three-run shot off August in the second inning last night.
He also hit a three-run shot on Thursday night at Memorial Stadium, and has combined with rookie right fielder Chito Martinez for six home runs and 13 RBI the past three games.
The 420-foot drive last night sailed over the foul pole and landed in the upper deck in the left-field corner, making it difficult to tell whether it was fair or foul. But third-base umpire Al Clark didn't hesitate.
It would not turn out to be a pivotal call, since the three-run Orioles lead didn't survive the inning. Johnson gave up three in the bottom of the second and allowed one more in the third before turning the game over to Smith.
Johnson handed a leadoff walk to Greg Vaughn to open the second and the Brewers went on to load the bases on a single by B. J. Surhoff and a walk to Franklin Stubbs. Jim Gantner struck out, putting Johnson within a double-play grounder of getting out of the jam, but Bill Spiers lined a 2-2 pitch into the right-field corner to drive home two runs.
Paul Molitor tied the game with a run-scoring ground-out, and Surhoff gave the Brewers the lead with a one-out RBI single that drove Johnson out of the game.
It was just another frustrating chapter in a very difficult season for the pitcher who won more games (13) than any other Oriole in 1990. Johnson was coming off a rare bullpen victory in the Orioles' 12-inning win over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, but he had lasted just 1 1/3 innings in his previous start.
"The only thing I know is that it's downright embarrassing to go out there and no matter what you throw, everything goes wrong," he said. "I threw a pitch to Spiers that was in an area where he doesn't like to hit. I made my pitch, and he hit it like he knew it was coming."
The Orioles came back to tie the game in the fourth on a leadoff double by Martinez and an RBI single by Bob Melvin, but it was all Brewers after that.
Smith got out of a jam for Johnson in the third, but he gave up a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth before the revolving door in the Orioles bullpen turned again.
The game got away on five consecutive Brewers hits in the fifth. Franklin Stubbs delivered a one-out RBI single and ran into an out at second base. Paul Molitor greeted reliever Todd Frohwirth with a two-run double to give Milwaukee a four-run lead.
August gave up seven hits through the first four innings, but survived the big blow by Gomez to work into the seventh inning and improve his career record against the Orioles to 5-0.