CLEVELAND -- Craig Lefferts' fifth start for the Orioles here last night was not unlike three of the previous four.
The veteran left-hander displayed an ability to avert disaster, but he also found himself in trouble more often than he would have liked.
As a result, the Cleveland Indians were able to overcome a four-RBI performance by Cal Ripken to beat the Orioles, 8-5. Lefferts, who was not helped by a shoddy defense that contributed to half the Cleveland runs, allowed 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings in losing for the third time in four decisions since being obtained from the San Diego Padres on Aug. 31.
Only in his previous start, a 2-0 win over the Boston Red Sox a week ago, was Lefferts effective from start to finish. Obtained as a fifth starter for what the club hoped would be a last-month drive for a division title, Lefferts is one of the players the Orioles have to make a decision on during the off-season.
Manager Johnny Oates refused to be drawn into any speculation about Lefferts. "I'm not going to say anything about that," he said. "I'll give [general manager] Roland [Hemond] my thoughts on that Monday."
However, Oates wasn't necessarily unhappy about what he saw last night. "He kept us within striking distance without his good stuff," said Oates. "It looks like he has the ability to do that.
"It looks to me like he depends a lot on movement [of his pitches] and I don't think he had as much as he would've liked. But, going into the seventh inning, he'd allowed only three earned runs. He was behind 2-0 after two batters, but then he shut them down real quick."
Carlos Baerga had three hits and drove in two runs for the Indians, who also got a two-run homer from Thomas Howard and two hits from Kenny Lofton, who scored twice and drive in two other runs.
"That wasn't a very good game out there tonight," said Oates. "We threw the ball all over the place -- we gave them too many bases."
Ripken had a two-run double in the fifth inning and a two-run homer, his 13th, in the ninth, but the Orioles were in the game only briefly. That was in the fifth inning, when they scored three runs and chased ex-teammate Jose Mesa.
Right-hander Rod Nichols (4-3) pitched the last 4 2/3 innings, giving up only the two runs resulting from Ripken's homer. Mark Williamson and Alan Mills worked in relief of Lefferts (1-3).
The Indians wasted no time scoring against Lefferts, who gave up hits to the first three batters he faced. Lofton opened with a single to center field, and one pitch later the score was 2-0, as Howard hammered his second home run of the year, into the left-field seats.
Baerga followed with a single, but Albert Belle lined to left and Reggie Jefferson bounced into a double play.
Two innings later, an error by second baseman Steve Scarsone led to two more runs for the Indians. Junior Ortiz, who had led off with a single, appeared to be an easy third out as he attempted to steal second while Howard was striking out.
However, Scarsone, making his first start for the Orioles, muffed the throw from catcher Jeff Tackett. Ortiz was safe on the error and then scored on a single by Baerga, who went to second when Brady Anderson overthrew the cutoff man. Baerga scored when Belle followed with a single.
The Orioles were hitless against Mesa until the fourth, when Chito Martinez and David Segui lined back-to-back singles with two outs. Tim Hulett flied to right to end the inning, but the Orioles bounced back with three runs in the fifth.
Scarsone opened with his first American League hit, a liner to left, and Tackett walked. Anderson drilled a single to center, scoring Scarsone on a close play at the plate and, after Orsulak hit into a force, Ripken doubled into the gap in left-center.
That was all for Mesa. He was replaced by Nichols, who sandwiched a walk to Martinez around infield grounders by Glenn Davis and Segui.
Lefferts found himself in trouble again in the fifth, when Felix Fermin and Ortiz opened with singles, putting runners on first and third. Lofton's fly to center enabled Fermin to score, making it 5-3 before Lefferts struck out Howard again, and got Baerga to hit into a force play.
The Orioles wasted a chance against Nichols in the seventh after Joe Orsulak and Ripken led off with singles. Orsulak went to third on Davis' fly to deep right, but Chito Martinez looked at a third strike and Segui flied out. In the bottom half of the inning, the Indians scored three runs to pull away. In the inning, Baerga got his third hit of the game, his 201st of the season.
With his three singles, Baerga became the first American League second baseman to hit .300 with 200 hits, 20 homers and 100 RBI.