There was a certain illogical quality to the Orioles' performance in last night's 8-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards.
Starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe gave up eight earned runs and didn't really deserve to lose. The Orioles were down by six runs by the middle of the second inning, and they probably should have come back to win.
How can this be?
It's not all that complicated. Sutcliffe was the victim of some sketchy defense in a four-run first inning, and the Orioles refused the generosity of the Oakland pitching staff on enough occasions to warrant the opinion that they could have -- if not should have -- overturned a lopsided verdict.
They had 15 base runners in the first seven innings. They accepted eight walks. They had A's starter Mike Moore on the ropes all night, but he slipped and jabbed and generally did a rope-a-dope number on them until reinforcements arrived in the late innings.
Moore gave up six hits and walked seven over 6 1/3 innings, but he still handed the Orioles their second straight loss and improved his record to 5-2 in the process. Sutcliffe recovered from a rocky start to pitch well through the middle innings but took the loss and fell to 5-3. It was the first time the Orioles have lost back-to-back games since April 26-27 and the first time they have lost two in a row at Oriole Park.
The atmosphere was festive when the Orioles took the field in the first inning, and why not? The club had just come home from another wildly successful road trip with the best record in the major leagues, and one of the best teams in the American League West had come to see what all the commotion was about.
But the sellout crowd of 43,907 had little to celebrate in the early innings. The A's wrapped four runs around a subpar play by second baseman Mark McLemore in the first and added two runs in the second to stake Moore to a six-run lead.
Sutcliffe might have been out of the first inning if McLemore could have scooped a sharp one-out grounder off the bat of Harold Baines, but the ball skipped past him for an RBI single and Mark McGwire followed with a towering three-run homer to left-center.
"It's not a routine play," Oates said, "but this is the major leagues and two days in a row we had makeable plays that didn't get made."
The other play that Oates was referring to was Frank Thomas' fly ball that bounced off Mike Devereaux's glove and over the fence in Chicago on Sunday. Last night's misplay was just as tough to take, but it did not change Oates' opinion of the job McLemore has done this year.
"The way he has played, he deserves to continue to play," Oates said. "He's been outstanding. One play isn't going to keep him in the lineup if he makes it, and one play he doesn't make certainly isn't going to keep him from playing."
McLemore made no excuses. He reached across his body and came up empty.
"It was hit hard, but it should have been caught," he said. "I should catch it."
It turned out to be a four-run mistake, but McLemore did not serve up the home run to McGwire. Sutcliffe took full responsibility for that.
McGwire has a history of hurting the Orioles, but he has been putting a hurt on just about everyone this year. The home run was his 17th in 38 games, and it raised his major-league-leading RBI total to 36.
The A's played long ball again in the second inning, taking advantage of a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Jerry Browne when Rickey Henderson followed with a line drive into the left-field seats for his sixth home run.
"I came in here and for seven weeks keep saying, 'Don't walk anybody and keep the ball in the ballpark,' " Sutcliffe said. "Then, I walk a bunch of guys and give up two home runs."
Talk about shell shock. The Orioles were coming off a 14-10 loss in Chicago that featured a pair of first-inning home runs. They came home to find that the ball was still carrying well at Camden Yards. If they could have taken advantage of it, the game might have turned around on number of occasions.
It almost turned around in a hurry. The Orioles came back to score three times in the bottom of the second inning and had the potential tying run at the plate when Moore finally worked out of trouble.
Moore struggled with his control from the outset. He handed out six walks in his first four innings, but had to pay for only one of them. He put Devereaux on to lead off the second and gave up base hits to three of the next four batters he faced to pull the Orioles back into the game.
Chris Hoiles followed with a single, and both runners moved up on an out before David Segui brought them home with a hit to right-center. Leo Gomez followed with a single to left-center that sent Segui to third, and Brady Anderson grounded to first, bringing home the third run of the inning.
It didn't end there. Moore walked McLemore to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but Cal Ripken looked at a third strike, ending the inning. There began the club's tale of woe in clutch situations.