CHICAGO -- On the fourth day, Todd Frohwirth should have rested.
The theory that the Orioles' underhanded reliever gets better the more he works may finally have been tested beyond his limit. At least, that is the obvious impression after the Chicago White Sox jolted the Orioles with an eight-run eighth inning for a 10-7 win here last night.
Frohwirth insisted he was capable of pitching in a fourth straight game and manager Johnny Oates obviously believed him. The results indicated otherwise and sent the Orioles into today's 1:35 game looking to merely win -- not sweep -- the three-game series in Chicago.
"I felt the same as I did yesterday [Monday] and I told Johnny the same thing," Frohwirth (3-1) said after being charged with the last three runs, and the loss, which dropped the Orioles four games behind the triumphant Toronto Blue Jays. "When I went out there, I felt great."
After two pitches, however, Frohwirth's outlook was suffering from a severe mood swing. The first one to Carlton Fisk was good enough -- a strike that caught the outside part of home plate.
The next one caught the middle of the left-field foul line and the Orioles, who entered the inning with a five-run lead, were up to their necks in quicksand.
The whole mess had started innocently enough -- with a ground ball to shortstop Cal Ripken -- the way the Orioles would like to start every inning. Except that Ripken made his first error in 42 games, second in the last 74 and only his sixth of the season.
"We got [Frank] Thomas to hit a ground ball to a guy who never misses them," said Oates. "Maybe that set the tone for the whole inning."
What happened after that was a long nightmare. Oates may have stretched starter Rick Sutcliffe one hitter past his limit, but he did have logic on his side.
Both Frohwirth and Alan Mills had pitched the night before and it had been deemed earlier that Mills would be the early man. "They were both the same," said Oates. "We had Alan [warming] up early. I was going to use him if we needed two or three, and Todd to get out of an inning."
Sutcliffe gave up three soft singles in succession to George Bell, Robin Ventura and Shawn Abner. Then Pat Clements came in to throw one pitch. Plate umpire Jim Evans ruled it hit Vance Johnson, a decision that wasn't supported either by the replay or the reaction of Johnson, who stood at home plate until Evans motioned him to first base.
At that point, recalling events of the night before, the Orioles should've had an inkling of what was in store. Less than 24 hours earlier, an error by shortstop Craig Grebeck and a controversial ruling that Mike Devereaux had been hit by a pitch enabled the Orioles to tie a game they eventually won in 12 innings.
Fisk's double unloaded the bases to tie the game and Frohwirth eventually gave up a two-run single to Steve Sax and an RBI double to Thomas. "It [the pitch to Fisk] was right down the middle," said Frohwirth.
"All of them were right down the middle. I just made bad pitches. The ball just wouldn't sink," said Frohwirth.
The accepted theory with conventional (overhand) sinkerball pitchers is that the ball tends to sink more when they are tired. Whether the reverse of that is true with underhanded pitchers, such as Frohwirth, may be a matter for future scrutiny.
Oates had closer Gregg Olson start to warm up when he brought Frohwirth into the game, but he was not to be a factor once Fisk tied the game.
Asked what was going through his mind once the inning, and his best laid plans, started to deteriorate, Oates had a one-word answer: "Help."
None was in the offing.
"You're hoping they hit one at somebody, that the ball doesn't hit the chalk and goes foul," said Oates. "That's something that hasn't happened to our bullpen very often."
He refused to use the hit-batter call as an alibi. "We had a lot of chances to get out of that inning," said Oates.
"Sometimes a call helps you, sometimes it hurts you. This one hurt us, but that's part of the game."
When a team blows a five-run lead late in the game, there usually is more than one key factor. Last night the Orioles had many -- Ripken's error, the hit batter, Sutcliffe not being able to get one more hitter out, Frohwirth not being able to respond as he had in the previous three games of this trip.
"Early in the game, they [the White Sox] hit some balls hard," said Sutcliffe, "later the balls just seemed to fall in. You can't explain it -- it doesn't happen very often and it hasn't happened to us all year. You could check box scores for a month and you won't see that [an eight-run inning] more than once or twice."
Sutcliffe ended up with an ugly line -- nine hits, six runs (five earned) in seven-plus innings, but was better than it indicated. It was his fourth unsuccessful attempt for career win No. 150, but Oates is not unduly concerned.
"He hasn't pitched quite as well as he did early in the year," said Oates, "but I don't think he's laboring. We've had some games where we didn't get him many runs [five in his previous three starts]."
This time the Orioles gave Sutcliffe a bundle to work with -- including a three-run homer by Leo Gomez (8) and back-to-back solo shots by Glenn Davis (7) and Randy Milligan (8).
Last night the Orioles had enough runs, they just didn't have enough relief.