The box score says that the Baltimore Orioles lost yesterday's game to the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, when Jim Eisenreich's sacrifice fly off Mike Flanagan knocked in the winning run in the ninth inning.
But what really beat the Orioles was their squandering chances in the third, fourth and fifth innings, when they got seven hits against Kevin Appier . . . and scored one run.
A few more runs during that span and the game would have been completely different. The Orioles would have put extreme pressure on a Royals offense that had averaged slightly more than six hits a game on a 10-game road trip.
As it was, the Orioles wasted a strong start by Ben McDonald and dropped their fourth straight series.
Manager John Oates found this particular defeat frustrating after McDonald's effort and a notable major-league debut by outfielder Luis Mercedes, who singled, doubled, walked and scored both Orioles runs.
"We tried to do some things and didn't get it done," Oates said. "You get frustrated and disappointed when everything you try backfires. My job is to put the team in position to win the ballgame.
"The players still have to execute, but I'm the one who has to face the ax."
Already ahead, 2-0, the Orioles started the fourth inning with a single, single and double and didn't score. Why? The leadoff man, Joe Orsulak, was "thrown out on a hit-and-run," Oates said.
In the ninth, with the Orioles down, 3-2, Oates allowed pinch hitter Sam Horn to swing on a 3-0 count with one on and one out and Cal Ripken on deck. Horn had homered in the previous two games of the series, but this time he rolled into a double play to end the game.
"I gave him the green light, but he topped the ball," Oates said. "It looked like a pretty good swing, but it didn't work out this time."
McDonald had his curveball snapping effectively and the Royals cringing through six innings as he struck out seven and allowed only three hits.
"He had a great curve. That's what made him tough," said Kansas City outfielder Danny Tartabull, who went 2-for-4 to finish the series 7-for-11. He batted .523 this year against the Orioles.
"He mixed it in with his fastball and change-up. When you get those pitches in the strike zone, it makes it really difficult for hitters to pick a pitch to hit."
McDonald concurred. "My curve was probably my best pitch and I got in the groove early with it," he said. "I couldn't rely on getting guys out with the fastball. That is making me pitch."
But a single by Tartabull, a double by Eisenrich and a two-run single by Todd Benzinger tied the score at 2 in the seventh, and left McDonald in a no-decision situation when he left after the inning.
Oates pulled him because McDonald told "[pitching coach] Al Jackson he'd better get out of here. That tells me he's near the end."
McDonald had some stiffness in his shoulder that forced him to leave his previous start. He said it tightened again "about the same as the last time.
"I don't think I got tired," he said. "I got behind in the count and that makes it tough to pitch."
For one of the few times this year, reliever Todd Frohwirth weakened after pitching a scoreless eighth. A single by George Brett and double by Tartabull set up the winning fly ball in the ninth against Flanagan.
McDonald, winless at home since July 1, said credit must be given to Appier, who "did a good job getting out of some jams. We had our chances but couldn't do it."
From the seventh onward, Joel Johnston and Jeff Montgomery closed down the Orioles despite Mercedes' last two appearances on base.
Mercedes twice had been driven in by Cal Ripken, giving Ripken 90 RBI this season -- the sixth time in 10 seasons he has gotten 90 or more RBI. The 15th new Oriole delighted the fans with his hustle, but it still wasn't enough.
"On the one side, there were some encouraging things," Oates said. "On the other, it wasn't a very pretty ballgame."
Orioles first: Mercedes safe on shortstop Stillwell's fielding error. Anderson grounded out to third baseman Berry, Mercedes to third. C. Ripken grounded out to shortstop Stillwell, Mercedes scored . Davis grounded out to third baseman Berry. 1 run, 0 hits, 1 error, 0 left on. Orioles 1, Royals 0.
Orioles third: Mercedes doubled to right-center. Anderson sacrificed to pitcher Appier, Mercedes to third. C. Ripken singled to center, Mercedes scored. Davis struck out. Milligan grounded into fielder's choice, second baseman Pecota to shortstop Stillwell, C. Ripken forced at second. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 2, Royals 0.
Royals seventh: Tartabull singled to right. Eisenreich doubled to right center, Tartabull to third. Benzinger singled to left, Tartabull and Eisenreich scored. Stillwell grounded into double play, second baseman B.Ripken to shortstop C. Ripken to first baseman Milligan. Mayne grounded out to first baseman Milligan, pitcher McDonald covering. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Royals 2, Orioles 2.
Royals ninth: Brett singled to right. Tartabull doubled to right, Brett to third. Flanagan relieved Frohwirth. Cole ran for Brett. Eisenreich hit sacrifice fly to center fielder Anderson, Cole scored. Moore ran for Tartabull. Benzinger flied out to right fielder Mercedes. Stillwell walked. Howard ran for Stillwell. Seitzer, pinch hitting for Mayne, grounded out to shortstop C. Ripken. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Royals 3, Orioles 2.