MILWAUKEE -- If they gave all players a baseball IQ test, the Orioles probably would score among the highest averages -- if not the highest -- in the game.
Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa says, are the two smartest players in the game. B. J. Surhoff is extremely bright. Mike Mussina is among the best of the thinking pitchers.
Yes, the Orioles have a lot of intelligent players who haven't been playing very smartly, manager Davey Johnson said after the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Orioles, 6-4, yesterday, as mistakes offset Rafael Palmeiro's two two-run homers, his first since April 21.
Nobody argued with his assessment, and really, there was no room for argument. For the past week, they have committed a series of mental blunders, from Alomar botching a potential double play last Tuesday on a throw from the pitcher, to base-running mistakes in Saturday's victory.
But none hurt so much as they did yesterday, when the Orioles had a chance to complete a three-game sweep against a wild and generally ineffective pitcher, Angel Miranda, and beat themselves.
"Little things that we're capable of doing," Johnson said, "that can be the difference between winning and losing, and we're not doing them."
Palmeiro said: "Everything just went bad today. We came back and won the last two games, but you can't keep playing bad and expect to win like we've been doing.
"We need to play better and cut out the stupid mistakes we've been making. An error is an error, but we've got to cut out the mental mistakes and do the little things, like getting bunts down. We will, but it would've been nice to get another win."
The brain cramps came early and often yesterday:
The Orioles had men on first and second and nobody out in the second inning, score tied 2-2 at the time, both runners courtesy of walks by Miranda. Bill Ripken bunted, but too close to Miranda, who threw to third for the force. Luis Polonia lined to third baseman Kevin Seitzer, who doubled off Chris Hoiles at second. A promising inning, an erratic pitcher, and no runs.
The Brewers had runners at first and third and none out in the sixth inning, with the Orioles leading 4-3. Turner Ward hit a bouncer to third baseman Surhoff, and Matt Mieske, the runner at third, moved toward home, about 20 feet off the base. Seeing this, Surhoff turned and threw home.
But Mieske broke back toward third and beat Hoiles' return throw. Bases loaded and nobody out.
"We've got to get an out in that situation," said Johnson. "We've got to."
The next hitter, backup catcher Jesse Levis, hit a double-play grounder to Palmeiro. However, after pitcher Scott Erickson crossed first base upon taking the return throw, Levis ran into him from behind, the two falling together; not only did Mieske score from third, but Fernando Vina also scored from second.
Johnson argued for an interference call, but Erickson admitted later that if he had simply covered the base a little more quickly, he could've curled away from Levis.
Johnson wasn't happy, either, that after Palmeiro hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning, Erickson walked the first two Milwaukee hitters in the bottom of the inning, leading to two runs. (Erickson, pitching on three days' rest, walked five in 6 1/3 innings, his record slipping to 2-4.)
Second baseman Bill Ripken said: "We didn't do some things right today that were kind of annoying. A couple of circus plays when stuff is flying all over the place. It shouldn't happen with our team, but it has."
If not for a couple of good plays -- one exceptional hustle play by Cal Ripken -- the outcome could've been worse. In the first inning Dave Nilsson smashed a line drive to center, where Mike Devereaux attempted a diving catch. The ball bounced away. Two runners scored, but Nilsson was halfway between second and third when Cal Ripken's relay reached Surhoff. Nilsson headed back to second, and Surhoff threw to Bill Ripken. Too high: the throw rolled out into short right field.
Nilsson headed back to third and then home. Cal Ripken ran over to right, and with a slide, he retrieved the ball, and came up throwing. With one bounce, Ripken's throw reached Hoiles, who tagged out Nilsson.
A great play, but one of the few by the Orioles yesterday.
How can the mental blocks be rectified, somebody asked Johnson. "By me and the other [coaches]," he said, "reminding these guys they can't take things for granted."
Pub Date: 5/13/96
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 10: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rick Krivda (0-0, 13.50) vs. A's Doug Johns (3-3, 4.53)