MINNEAPOLIS -- Ben McDonald was cursing the fates again last night. Luck has never been his lady, so he shouldn't have been surprised when another decent performance turned sour yesterday at the Metrodome.
McDonald's string of 14 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer came to an end in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, but it didn't have to be that way. The Orioles blew a couple of defensive plays and a handful of scoring opportunities to settle for a split of the four-game set.
The loss dropped McDonald's record to 7-9 and dropped the Orioles 1 1/2 games out of first in the five-way American League East chase.
"I couldn't catch a break," McDonald said. "I felt like I threw the ball well -- better than the four runs I gave up. I felt like the only legitimate run I gave up was in the seventh inning. The rest could have been prevented with a little luck."
This is true. McDonald gave up two runs in the first inning, but the Twins' rally might not have been so fruitful if Tim Hulett had been able to hold onto a throw at third base. Minnesota scored a tie-breaking third run in the fifth, but might have been in a different strategic position if second baseman Mark McLemore had not laid back on a ground ball that Shane Mack legged out for a hit.
Of course, there was a lot more to it than that. Manager Johnny Oates was saying just the day before how the Orioles' 9-2 victory was a total team effort. He would be the first to admit that yesterday's loss fell into the same category.
There were base runners all over the place, but the Orioles could not catch up to Twins left-hander Jim Deshaies, who gave up seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings and still recorded his 11th victory.
"We had plenty of chances to score," Oates said, "but Deshaies did the same thing against us that our two left-handers [Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer] did to them the last two days."
McDonald has been just as hot as Valenzuela and Moyer. He had won five of his previous seven decisions and whittled his ERA so low (3.34) that he entered yesterday's game ranked eighth in the American League in that department.
The string of 14 performances allowing three earned runs or fewer was the longest by an Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer had a string of the same length in 1972.
During the streak, however, McDonald was only 5-5, which is another indication that good fortune has not exactly smiled on him.
"He threw the ball OK today," Oates said. "He could have bee out of the first inning with no runs and another run could have been prevented."
It was an important outing for McDonald regardless of the outcome. He had complained of increased shoulder stiffness after his one-hit performance against the Kansas City Royals last week, so there was room to wonder what he would take to the mound his next time out. Apparently, everything was fine.
"I felt real strong," he said. "Maybe too strong. I really had good velocity. I felt stronger than I have all year."
There was a time when a visiting team would have been happy to leave the Metrodome with a split. The Twins parleyed a decided home-field advantage into a pair of world championships in 1987 and '91, but they have not been overpowering anyone this year. The victory yesterday was their fifth in seven games, but they remain well out of contention in the AL West.
"We split the series," Oates said. "We're getting to the point now where a split may not be good enough, but we're going to stay with what we've been doing the last two months. If we don't get a win, we'll take the split and move on to the next city."
The next city is Toronto, where the Orioles open a two-game series against the Blue Jays tomorrow night at SkyDome. It is too early to consider it a crucial series, but with four teams tightly bunched at the top of the standings, it probably would not be advisable to fall far off the pace.
Yesterday the Orioles looked a bit like the offensive team that struggled so badly at the beginning of the season. They scored a couple of runs in the second inning on a two-out double by Hulett, but failed to take advantage of a series of promising situations later in the game.
It was not for lack of effort. David Segui came up with runners in scoring position on two occasions and once hit the ball to the fence in left-center field. If he had pulled the ball a few yards to the left, it might have been a different game.
There were other frustrating performances, too. Brady Anderson, who hit two long home runs in Saturday's rout, couldn't hit anything yesterday. He struck out four times in five at-bats. The Orioles got just one hit from the top three hitters in the batting order.
"It was a good week for soft-throwing left-handers," said Deshaies.
There were a few Orioles hitters who weren't fooled. Rookie Jeffrey Hammonds had his third consecutive multiple-hit performance with a double and two infield singles. He went 7-for-11 in the series, including a three-RBI performance in a late-inning appearance Saturday night.
Hulett had two hits and two RBI, but it was a give-and-take kind of day for him. He allowed Mack to knock the ball out of his glove on a double steal in the first inning, setting up two Twins runs. He got both runs back with his two-out double in the second and raised his batting average to .321 with a 2-for-4 performance.
Mack had three hits for the Twins, including a two-out, RBI double off McDonald in the seventh inning that gave the Twins a two-run lead. Reliever Todd Frohwirth surrendered the final Minnesota run, giving up an eighth-inning home run to Dave Winfield.
LEFT ON BASE
The Orioles struggled to get anything done with men on base during yesterday's 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome. They stranded nine runners and wasted scoring opportunities in four of the last six innings. Here's a look at the ones that got away.
* Fourth inning: With a runner at second and two out, David Segui hit a long fly ball to left field to end the inning.
* Fifth inning: The Orioles had four base runners in the fifth, but Tim Hulett was picked off after a leadoff single and then the club could not take advantage of a bases-loaded, two-out situation.
* Sixth inning: Segui doubled with two out and was stranded there when Hulett flied out to right.
* Eighth inning: Harold Baines doubled with one out and Jeffrey Hammonds beat out an infield single with two out, but Segui again flied out to the fence to end the inning.
AL EAST RACE
Team .. .. .. W .. .. L .. .. Pct. .. .. GB
Boston .. .. 55 .. .. 43.. .. .561 .. .. --
New York.. ..56 .. .. 44.. .. .560 .. .. --
Toronto .. ..55 .. .. 44 .. .. .556 .. .. 1/2 J JTC Orioles .. ..54 .. .. 45 .. .. .545.. .. 1 1/2
Detroit .. ..51 .. .. 48 .. .. .515 .. ..4 1/2
Yesterday's results Minnesota 5, Orioles 2
Boston 8, Oakland 1
New York 9, California 8
Detroit 3, Kansas City 0
Toronto at Texas