MILWAUKEE -- The Baltimore Orioles still have not solved the mystery of Ben McDonald, whose first full season in the major leagues has fallen well shy of expectations.
They have had even less success figuring out Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jaime Navarro, who remained undefeated against them with last night's 7-6 victory at County Stadium.
Navarro carried a shutout into the eighth inning before the Orioles took advantage of an error at second base to score five unearned runs and make it interesting. But no matter. He still defeated them for the third time this year and the sixth time in his career without a defeat.
McDonald gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits over just 4 2/3 innings in another now-you-see-him-pitch-well, now-you-don't performance that came apart in a four-run fifth inning.
The Brewers were on the way to a 7-0 blowout until Willie Randolph bobbled a potential double-play ball to turn a quick inning into a five-run Baltimore bat-around. Rookie outfielder Chito Martinez pulled the Orioles back into the game with a three-run homer that cut the deficit to two. Cal Ripken made it closer with his 25th home run in the ninth, but Edwin Nunez held on to record his seventh save.
When it was over, manager John Oates said McDonald didn't pitch all that poorly, but admitted that the poor results were enough to persuade him to make a pitching change in the fifth inning.
"He's starting to throw the ball much more consistently for me now," Oates said. "There was a time this year when he couldn't throw the breaking ball over the plate. He threw some good ones tonight. I really believe that if we replayed this night, the outcome would be different."
Nevertheless, Oates went to his bullpen after McDonald allowed five straight batters to reach base in the Brewers' four-run fifth.
"I think, as a manager, you have to make the move there," he said. "You can't just leave him out there. I would sign him on what I saw out there tonight, but I had to take him out on the results."
Oates has been looking for a more consistent performance from the team's most valuable pitching commodity, but McDonald has not been as overpowering as he was during the second half of the 1990 season. He had 2.43 ERA in 21 games (15 starts) last year. He has given up more than twice as many earned runs (5.27) per nine innings in 1991.
The Brewers have not had reason to be particularly impressed. McDonald gave up eight runs and 19 hits over 10 innings in two earlier starts this season. He worked with men on base in each of the five innings he started last night, though a bases-empty home run by B.J. Surhoff in the second was the only damage done by the Brewers before the game unraveled in the fifth.
Navarro did not pitch well in his previous start -- a 14-7 victory over the Texas Rangers -- but came back to shut out the Orioles in impressive fashion through seven innings last night.
Credit a big defensive save to center fielder Robin Yount, who made a spectacular dive to rob Juan Bell of a potential run-scoring hit in the fifth inning.
McDonald fell victim to a rare throwing error by Cal Ripken in the bottom of the fifth, and the Brewers went on to score four times to knock him out of the game.
Bill Spiers drew a two-out walk and stole second before Paul Molitor pulled a bouncer to deep short. Ripken was there, but his right foot slipped out from under him as he planted to make the throw. The ball bounced off first baseman Randy Milligan for an error, as Spiers sped around third to score.
"How often is that going to happen?" McDonald said. "Cal has been great there his whole career, but his foot hit a soft spot and he slipped. It was just one of those things. I could have been out of the inning a couple of times."
The inning got more complicated when McDonald walked Randolph to set up consecutive run-scoring singles by Darryl Hamilton and Yount. No one crushed the ball, but McDonald didn't crush the rally either.
bTC "I was a little upset with myself, because I lost some control there," McDonald said. "I was rushing a little bit. I'm trying to be more consistent throwing strikes."
That was it for McDonald, but not the Brewers, who took advantage of a second error in the fifth -- this one by Bell -- to increase their lead to five.
Ripken, who set a major-league record when he made only three errors all last year, has made seven in 1991. Bell, whose five-week run as a starter is expected to end today, when Bill Ripken returns to the lineup, has made eight in very limited playing time.
Bill Ripken replaced Bell at second in the sixth inning, making his first appearance since he went on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his rib cage on July 16.