MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Orioles were throwing shutouts, pitching coach Mike Flanagan could show up at the park each day and sip some coffee, watch the Cubs game and occasionally switch over to see how the NBA playoffs are going.
But the ERA of the bullpen before last night's game against Minnesota was 13.50, and this is a busy time for Flanagan. He swung a chair around and sat directly in front of the locker of the struggling Alan Mills, and they talked. He chatted with Brad Pennington, Armando Benitez. All part of Flanagan's job.
If a pitcher is going well, Flanagan said, there isn't much to say. But if a pitcher is having problems getting people out -- and right now, that includes just about everybody on the Orioles staff -- Flanagan makes sure he talks to them. "The worse his day is," Flanagan said, "the faster I'll talk with him."
Flanagan talks to them about pitching philosophy, about pitch selection, about psychology. He understands that by merely speaking with them, he is sending a message -- Hey, hang in there, we're not going to start ignoring you.
"I just think I've got a lot of empathy for pitchers in general," Flanagan said. "There are so many ups and downs. You are either going very well or else the sky is falling."
The Orioles have been playing in the Metrodome, so it would be hard to say that the sky is falling on the bullpen. But you can safely say that, figuratively, the roof has collapsed.
The Orioles have allowed 24 runs this year, and 18 have been scored in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings against the relievers. They've been in every game, before their relievers took the mound.
* Game 1 -- Starter Mike Mussina leaves in a 0-0 game. Orioles lose, 5-1.
* Game 2 -- Ben McDonald labors but the Orioles lead 4-3 when he is removed. Mills and Brad Pennington allow four runs and Minnesota wins, 7-4.
* Game 3 -- Homers by Andy Van Slyke, Cal Ripken and Matt Nokes give the Orioles a 6-0 lead. But the Twins tie the game at 6 against Sid Fernandez, Mike Oquist and Jamie Moyer.
Rafael Palmeiro hit a three-run homer and the Orioles led by three runs again. But Mills, Benitez, Jesse Orosco and Doug Jones all gave up key hits in a devastating 12-9 loss.
Yesterday, Flanagan sought out many of those involved in Friday's loss. "A lot of this is trying to keep the negative thoughts from going in," he said. "You've got to stay away from the words Can't and Don't."
He was encouraged by the what the relievers were saying. Mills and Benitez arrived at the Metrodome yesterday afternoon, saying they were ready to go. "That's a good sign." Flanagan said.
"I think they're looking for this [feedback]. I think they're looking to us to see how we react.
"We'll be OK. That's the nice thing about baseball -- the best team will win in a 144-game season. In 1979 and 1983, the two years we went to the World Series, we had two 10-game losing streaks. That's going to happen."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 2 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Arthur Rhodes (3-5, 5.81 in 1994) vs. Twins' Scott Erickson (8-11, 5.44 in 1994).
LATE ORIOLES GAME
Last night's Orioles-Twins game in Minneapolis did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call  268-7736, ext. 5023).
The inning-by-inning scoring against the Orioles in the first three games:
Inn. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Runs 1 1 2 1 1 7 4 7