DETROIT -- A middle-aged woman, wearing an Orioles cap, red shorts and a black T-shirt with Cal Ripken's face emblazoned upon it, waited outside the Orioles' clubhouse for autographs last night.
She had just watched the Orioles lose their sixth straight game, and their second straight to the Detroit Tigers, 5-3. The Orioles are 19-27, and going nowhere in a hurry.
"I drove 8 1/2 hours to get here," the woman said, and one thought came to mind:
The most common Orioles' refrain heard during the 1995 season has been this: It's a long year. Manager Phil Regan has said it, shortstop Ripken has said it, pitcher Ben McDonald has said it. The inference being, of course, that there's time for the Orioles to turn around their miserable start.
The Orioles aren't losing any ground in the AL East standings, because first-place Boston refuses to win these days. But time and opportunity are wasting away on the Orioles, who are in the midst of their longest losing streak since August 1993.
All one had to do was look at the forlorn expressions on the faces of Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Hoiles and several other Orioles who remained in the dugout for a good five minutes after the last out to realize how poorly things have gone on the first five games of this six-game trip.
"This definitely stinks, to say the least," said third baseman Jeff Manto, who hit his 10th homer of the season to give the Orioles an early 2-0 lead. "If we were losing once in a while, that would be fine. But you've got to watch it before it becomes a habit.
"It's time we kicked ourselves in the butt and started doing it. You can talk about all the cliches you want, playing one day at a time and all that, but we've got to start turning it around or it's going to be like this every night."
Manto's tone was analytical. Regan, however, spoke through pure and obvious fury.
"You keep trying," he said. "You can't give up. You hope somebody picks up the club, pitches a good game. You hope somebody steps in and gets a big hit. Right now, we don't have anybody to do that."
No, a well-pitched game and timely hitting are not part of the Orioles' repertoire these days. Orioles starter Kevin Brown gave up three runs with two outs in the fourth inning and squandered a 2-0 lead, Chad Curtis hitting a two-run double.
Emotion can be a double-edged for pitchers like Brown. Often his emotion is what makes him throw his fastball past an enemy slugger, or compels him to hustle in after a bunt and throw off-balance to first.
Emotion, however, also can hurt a pitcher, like a temper tantrum can hurt a golfer just before he attempts a putt. Brown wasn't in the best frame of mind, anyway, from the start. Pitching to Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker in the first inning, Brown fell behind in the count three balls and no strikes, and then called plate umpire Dale Scott to the mound. The spot where he was landing on his delivery, Brown said later, was muddy, slippery.
Scott called over head groundskeeper Frank Fenech, and Brown explained to Fenech what he wanted changed. Some sand was dumped on the mound and raked. Even so, Brown said, the mound was never satisfactory.
"I never was comfortable out there," Brown said.
Brown got out of the first inning without any damage, however, and pitched scoreless baseball through the second and third. He took a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning, and retired the first two batters.
All of a sudden, though, the Tigers rallied, all started by the bottom of their order. Right fielder Bobby Higginson singled, his first hit in 20 at-bats. No. 9 hitter John Flaherty, having a surprisingly good season, also singled to right.
Brown paced around the mound. Then center fielder Curtis slammed a liner down the right-field line, off the glass portion of the fence. Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, just slightly out of position, raced to retrieve the ball, and the relay arrived home slightly too late to get Flaherty, the second run.
Whitaker singled -- the fourth straight Detroit hit with two outs -- scoring Curtis, and Detroit led, 3-2. Travis Fryman singled before Cecil Fielder flied out to the wall in left-center. Something big, out of nothing.
"Of course it gets frustrating," said Brown, who thought he made good pitches to Higginson, Flaherty and Whitaker in the inning. "The way things are going for us, you make good pitches and they hit it anyway. The way our luck is going, you could make a pitch on the black and in the dirt and they'll hit it. Every decision is the wrong decision."
Kevin Bass homered in the top of the seventh to tie the score. Brown came out for the bottom of the seventh, his pitch count over 120, to pitch to Fielder. The night before, Ben McDonald came out for the bottom of the seventh, his pitch count high, to pitch to Fielder, and allowed a double.
Brown to Fielder: Another double.
Mark Lee relieved Brown, and fell behind Kirk Gibson 3-0 before getting a strikeout, one of four on the night by Gibson. Alan Trammell was walked intentionally. Juan Samuel was announced a pinch hitter for Franklin Stubbs, and Regan countered the move, bringing in right-hander Alan Mills.
But Samuel, who's been a dead fastball hitter his whole career, mashed a fastball from Mills into the gap, scoring both runners, with the help of an error by Hammonds. The Orioles' losing streak was alive and well.
Afterward, Regan said Mills "can't get a breaking ball over and he throws a fastball down the middle. You can't do that. You can't pitch that way in the majors. . . . You throw a fastball to a fastball hitter and you throw it down the middle and you let him beat you."
Juan Samuel beat the Orioles last night, but the way the O's are playing now, it's just a matter of who, when and where.
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Time: 1:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (5-4, 4.39) vs. Tigers' Mike Moore (4-5, 5.94)