The Baltimore Orioles moved to within two defeats of officially guaranteeing themselves a losing season last night.
And they did it in uncommon style, committing two costly errors that led to three unearned runs in a 7-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
One of the errors was by Cal Ripken in the midst of a four-run fifth inning that sent the Orioles to their 80th loss, before 32,409 fans at Memorial Stadium.
At least manager John Oates got an opportunity to air out his pitching staff with five relievers sharing in the rescue of Jose Mesa, including Francisco de la Rosa, who finished in his major-league debut.
Kansas City loaded the bases with one out in the ninth against de la Rosa, but couldn't score.
Mesa was making his first start since recovering from inflammation his right elbow and showed that he was healthy at least.
"At times he threw well," said Oates. "The main thing is that his arm is OK. He was just a little bit rusty. Sometimes he has control problems and maybe it's a little bit tougher for him to come back because of it."
But the Orioles had trouble making the plays for both him and Mark Williamson, who was appearing in only his second game in nearly a month.
The Royals finished Mesa with a single by George Brett and a double by Danny Tartabull that Oates said was approached by Chito Martinez at the wrong angle, denying him a chance to catch the ball.
Todd Benzinger greeted Williamson with a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 3 and after Bill Pecota grounded out, Williamson walked George Pedre, a player in his big-league debut.
David Howard's grounder squirted through Ripken's legs, Tartabull scoring to break the tie, before Terry Shumpert's looper down the left-field line got behind Joe Orsulak for a two-run double that finished Williamson.
Earlier, Leo Gomez committed an error on Pecota's grounder and eventually Pecota scored the second Royal run.
Tartabull continued to terrorize Oriole pitching, going 3-for-3 with two doubles before they walked him in his final two at-bats.
He is hitting .525 this season against Baltimore pitching with five homers and 14 RBI and is 5-for-7 in this series.
"We're not going to pitch to him any more," said Oates. "We tried to pitch around him and still got burned.
"Tomorrow, we're going to call the hotel and tell them not to give him his wake-up call. Then we're going to call the cabs and tell them to make him walk. Then we're going to call to security guards here and tell them not to let him in without identification. Then we're going to call Freddy Tyler [visiting clubhouse manager] and tell him to burn his uniform.
"If he still makes it to home plate, I'll walk him."
"They [Orioles] challenge me, throw me strikes and that's basically it," said Tartabull, explaining his success. "Certain clubs you hit better against than other clubs and the Orioles are one I hit well against."
Luis Aquino gained his sixth victory in his last seven decision for the Royals, who broke a three-game losing slide and assured themselves of a winning series against the Orioles (7-4 edge with one to play).
Tom Gordon and Jeff Montgomery finished for Kansas City, pitching a combined one-run four innings when Sam Horn homered with two out in the ninth against Montgomery.
"He likes us," Royal manager Hal McRae said of Horn, who has homered in two straight games. "In that situation, that was better than a walk."
Gordon has permitted only one earned run in his past 22 innings, Montgomery two in his past 19 2/3 .
The Orioles' only real outburst came in the third against Aquino when Mike Devereaux hit a two-run homer and Ripken doubled home Joe Orsulak.
"They came bang, bang, bang," said Oates. "Other than that, we didn't do much with him."
It was the 46th home defeat of the year for the Orioles, who are within six of the record 51 they suffered in 1987.