MILWAUKEE -- The Orioles continue to let it slip. They slipped into third place with yesterday's 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers and seem all too ready to do a quick fade in the waning days of the American League East race.
This time, they wasted another solid performance from right-hander Ben McDonald and ended a string of 143 days in which they have occupied either first or second place. They dropped a half-game behind the Brewers and 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who scored a 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers yesterday at SkyDome.
"I'm not discouraged," said manager Johnny Oates, who had shuffled his lineup yet again in an attempt to rejuvenate his faltering offense.
"I'm going to stay positive. We're going to keep fighting until it's impossible. But I'm human. There have been a few moments of discouragement. I'm not such a happy-go-lucky guy that I can go home clicking my heels when we lose two straight after winning three in a row."
Oates had to acknowledge that the playoff picture has become very bleak. The Orioles have 15 games left to play and they would have to win a tremendous percentage of them to have a chance to win. That would be a tall order under normal circumstances, but it will be particularly tough with an offensive unit that has averaged 2.3 runs during the past 13 games.
McDonald gave up three runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings, but he came up empty again. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts, but has not recorded a victory since he defeated the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 12.
Brewers right-hander Chris Bosio combined with two relievers to hold the Orioles to six hits, but what else is new? Their quiet offensive attack has managed more than two runs in just four of the past 12 games and more than four runs in two of the past 20.
"It's a little frustrating," said McDonald, whose record fell to 12-12 with the loss, "but I have to go back to the fact that I can't control whether I win or lose. I have to go out and pitch as well as I can. I have to go out and give up one, two or three runs, and hope that is good enough to win."
It hasn't been. He gave up two runs in his previous appearance and dropped a 3-1 decision to rookie Cal Eldred and the Brewers last weekend. He gave up one earned run in each of the two starts before that and came up with a no-decision both times. In his last seven starts, the Orioles have scored a total of 16 runs and McDonald has lost a career-high five straight decisions. That kind of thing has to play with a young pitcher's head.
"Lately, it seems like that is the way it has been," McDonald said. "You know if you give up three runs, you don't stand a very good chance of winning the ballgame. That's why I have been working so slow, because I know that every pitch can mean the ballgame. You don't want to make a mistake or the ballgame is over."
OC His undoing came in a sloppy fourth inning, when a one-out walk
and a couple of two-out singles brought the Brewers back from an early one-run deficit.
Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles had given the Orioles the lead with his 20th home run of the season, a bases-empty shot to left center in the second inning. The Orioles had a chance to add to the lead after David Segui and Bill Ripken opened the third with singles and Brady Anderson moved them over with a sacrifice bunt, but the rest is old news.
Mike Devereaux had been moved back into the No. 2 spot in the order
for just such an occasion, but he bounced out to third. Cal Ripken was back in his familiar No. 3 hole, but he flied out to center to end the inning.
McDonald gave up just one hit through the first three innings, but he walked Paul Molitor in the fourth and gave up run-scoring singles to Greg Vaughn and B.J. Surhoff to put the Brewers on top to stay. The Orioles right-hander would leave the game in the seventh after allowing an infield single to Kevin Seitzer and a one-out RBI double to Bill Spiers.
Bosio eventually gave way to left-hander Jesse Orosco and then Darren Holmes, both of whom pitched a hitless inning to boost the Brewers into second place.
Oates did not seem particularly disturbed about his club's new place in the standings, though the Orioles had not been below second place since April 28.
"I don't care about third place," he said. "We're not playing for second place. We're still fighting for first place."
The 1992 season already has been a success for the surprising Orioles, but Oates does not want anyone to be satisfied just yet. It has been nice to be in contention for the first 5 1/2 months of the season, but the last 2 1/2 weeks are important even if the club falls short of the division title.
"It's been a successful season all the way," Oates said, "and you don't want to take anything away from it over the last three weeks. We can't say that we've had an OK season and it doesn't matter what we do now, because what happens at the end of the season leaves a taste that lasts through the off-season."