O's end tour of torment


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It seems as though it was destined to end like this.

So many times since they last played in Baltimore (15 days ago), the Orioles had opportunities to make a positive statement in what has been a dismally negative year.

They managed only a split in a four-game series in New York because they couldn't hold a late-inning lead with Ben McDonald on the mound.

Then, after the All-Star break, they threw a no-hitter at the defending champions, but let the final game in Oakland get away in the 11th inning for another four-game split.

In California, after an exhilarating comeback win in the opening game, they booted a chance for a series sweep. Finally, on the last stop in Kansas City, they suffered the ultimate humiliation by blowing a 7-0 lead in the first game, again with McDonald pitching.

Four cities, four lost opportunities. Instead of a trip to build on, there were only frustrations born of blown chances.

So, on the final night there was little suspense. No late-inning excitement. No overtime dramatics. Just a routine loss that bordered on boredom.

Bob Milacki provided the only item of significant note when he pitched the first complete game in exactly two months. But that was hardly enough as the Orioles closed their nomadic show with a 5-1 loss to the Royals and headed home.

It wasn't a disastrous road trip, but it highlighted the absence of two things manager John Oates said he was looking for during the second half of the season. "Pitching and consistency," Oates repeated countless times when asked what he was hoping for the rest of the season.

He might have added Glenn Davis to his wish list, because right now the return of the injured first baseman appears to be the most realistic of the club's optimistic hopes. With a 36-51 record, the Orioles obviously have done little to improve their consistency.

And even though there has been evidence of improvement from the starting pitchers, they are still a long way from taking control.

The best thing that can be said about last night's loss is that Milacki, even in defeat, qualified for the all "pretty good" team.

"I thought Bobby threw the ball pretty good," said Oates, appropriately enough. "He had some good innings, then he lost it completely with a couple of hitters.

"But he was able to make some adjustments, and get his feeling back. He overmatched some hitters -- and then he'd throw them some hittable pitches," said Oates.

On a night that Bret Saberhagen (7-4) was in control, Milacki needed to be better than "pretty good," but one inning denied him the opportunity. The Royals scored their first four runs when they sent 10 batters to the plate in the third inning.

A leadoff walk (that's Oates you hear moaning in the background) to Terry Shumpert set everything up and a two-run double by Kirk Gibson put the Royals in motion.

It was your basic one-inning funk. Leo Gomez failed to get an out on Dave Howard's grounder to third when he looked to second before making a hurried, wild and late throw on the infield hit.

Getting an out at that point might have helped Milacki, but the big righthander subsequently wasn't able to help himself. The result was that the Orioles found themselves three or more runs behind by the fourth inning for the 26th time (in 87 games) this season.

"They hit some good pitches and I made some bad ones," was the way Milacki explained it. "The pitch to Gibson was away and I was surprised he hit it [to left-centerfield] as hard as he did because he usually tries to pull the ball.

"I had two strikes on [George] Brett, had him set up for an inside fastball, but I got it up and left it out over the plate."

That is not the desirable place to leave the baseball when Mr. Brett is in the batter's box. His single keyed the final two runs of the inning.

"He might have lost his concentration a little bit, and he got his mechanics messed up," pitching coach Al Jackson said of Milacki's third-inning struggle. "He threw some fastballs that looked like changeups.

"Sometimes that happens against a club that is quick," said Jackson. "You start thinking about what they can do and you get out of sync. That's what I think happened to him."

Whatever it was that happened to Milacki, for whatever the reason, it was enough to do in the Orioles on this night.

They were no match for Saberhagen or relievers Storm Davis and Jeff Montgomery and the Orioles wrapped up what looked at several points like a promising trip with their third straight loss.

The best thing that can be said is at least this loss was relatively painless. It didn't leave that excruciating feeling that popped up once in every city -- New York before the All-Star break, Oakland, California and Kansas City after the intermission.

Six wins would've been OK, seven would've been nice and eight would have created a giddy feeling of success. Instead the Orioles wound up 3-5 on this segment and 5-7 overall and limped home to face the three West Coast teams nine times in the next 10 days.

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