MILWAUKEE -- Maybe it was a wake-up call. The Orioles had gotten downright spoiled during their two-week turnaround. They had gotten used to solid pitching performances and big hits and win after win after win. Who could blame them the way things kept falling into place.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Sooner or later, the Orioles were bound to have a day that looked more like April than June, and they did that on an unseasonably chilly afternoon at County Stadium yesterday.
Right-hander Mike Mussina fell victim to a couple of big innings and the Orioles made a big base-running mistake on the way to a 7-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was no great disaster. The Orioles have won 12 of their past 14 games and are a sterling 5-2 on the road trip with three games remaining against the last-place Cleveland Indians. The Brewers figured to have a decent chance to avert a three-game sweep with well-known Oriole- killer Jaime Navarro on the mound. The game just didn't go the way anyone would have expected.
Mussina came out of character to give up seven runs on 11 hits over 6 1/3 innings, missing a chance to become the major leagues' first 10-game winner. [The Chicago White Sox's Jack McDowell pulled off the feat yesterday afternoon.] Mussina gave up three runs on four two-out hits in the first inning and three more runs with two outs in the seventh, dropping his record to 9-3.
"It was just one of those games," said Mussina, who is 0-2 with a 13.03 in two starts against the Brewers this year. "It was all right except for two innings when I couldn't get the final out. They hit tTC well with two outs and two strikes. They hit the ball where our guys weren't standing. That's the way you play the game."
There didn't figure to be much margin for error against Navarro, who came into the game with an 8-1 career record against the Orioles. He gave up just an infield hit through the first four innings and appeared to be on his way to another strong performance when his control failed him in the fifth inning.
He left himself wide-open for an Orioles comeback, but they closed the door on themselves with a base-running error that let the air out of a promising rally.
Navarro walked the bases loaded with no one out and gave up a two-run double to Brady Anderson. But the Orioles could not squeeze even the tying run out of a second-and-third, no-out situation. Jeff Tackett was thrown out at the plate on a bouncer to first base by Mark McLemore and Cal Ripken hit into a double play, ending the inning.
Tackett apparently was not supposed to run on a ground ball to the pitcher or first baseman, but he broke for the plate and left a surprised Anderson standing at second.
"The first baseman was back and the ball wasn't hit extremely hard," Tackett explained. "I thought I could beat it, but I guess not."
If that sounds a lot like some of the things that were happening during the bad old days in April, it should. The Orioles would go on to squander promising opportunities in the sixth and seventh innings, too, before the Brewers broke the game open with four runs in the bottom of the seventh.
"Those things are going to happen sometimes," manager Johnny Oates said. "We had some chances."
The Brewers went down quietly in the first two games of the series, but they came out swinging yesterday. Darryl Hamilton and Greg Vaughn delivered back-to-back two-out doubles to put them in the lead in the first inning. Mussina complicated the situation with a walk to Kevin Reimer and gave up back-to-back RBI singles to Robin Yount and B. J. Surhoff.
Mussina settled down to pitch five shutout innings after that and looked like he might still come out on top, but the Brewers got four more in the seventh on consecutive run-scoring hits by Bill Spiers, Hamilton and Vaughn in the seventh.
"Seven runs scored with two outs," Oates said. "He got the first two outs in the first inning. Vaughn hit the ball hard, but the other two runs came on ground balls through the infield. It wasn't like he got rocked."
Two of Mussina's three losses this year have come against Navarro and the Brewers, and he has given up seven runs in each of his two starts against them. He is 9-1 with a 2.48 ERA against the rest of the league.
Somehow, Navarro (5-3) survived five innings and was credited with the win. He left the game after giving up a single and a walk with no out out in the sixth, but reliever Mike Ignasiak eventually worked out of a bases-loaded jam.
Anderson opened the seventh with another double and moved to third on a grounder to the right side by McLemore, but he was left there when Jesse Orosco struck out Ripken and Harold Baines.
The Orioles went quietly the rest of the way and on to Cleveland, where right-hander Ben McDonald will face former Oriole Jose Mesa in the series opener tomorrow night. The club still is on course to make this an outstanding road trip after winning its fifth series in a row.
"You'd better believe it," Oates said. "At the end, it's going to be something to be very happy about if we can win a couple of games in Cleveland."