Neither can be explained.
The Orioles rolled into the Twin Cities having won four straight. Eighteen of their past 27. Contenders for the AL East title, their vigor renewed after having beaten the evil Rangers and all those ex-Orioles.
And despite all that momentum, they couldn't find a way to beat Minnesota -- again. Minnesota right-hander Brad Radke allowed just four hits over seven innings and zapped the Orioles, 5-3.
Orioles starter Ben McDonald lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and all five Minnesota runs and saw his record drop to 2-6. The Twins have 25 victories in 75 games this year, and they've won five of eight against the Orioles. Next thing you know they're going to find a ring of boulders on the Camden Yards infield.
The Orioles blew a great chance to come back in the ninth inning. They loaded the bases with nobody out, and after a tremendous 11-pitch at-bat against reliever Dave Stevens, pinch hitter Jeff Huson walked to force in a run. But pinch hitter Leo Gomez struck out, Curtis Goodwin struck out and Brady Anderson hit a chopper back to the mound to end the game.
"Well, we had a chance," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "I like the way we fought back, and we didn't give up. We just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it."
His reaction was much different two weeks ago when the Twins took two of three games from the Orioles at Camden Yards. After Minnesota's second victory in that series, Regan punctuated his post-game news conference by flinging his tie-clip microphone a good 10 feet. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro talked about how the Orioles should've swept the three games, how Twins pitcher Mike Trombley beat them with -- in so many words -- garbage.
Lose two games to the Cleveland Indians, or to the California Angels, and you tip your cap. Lose two games to the Minnesota Twins, and you rant and rave.
But last night, Regan chose to praise the opposition.
"You say you should beat them, but you look at their hitting and their fielding and they're ahead of us. They've only lacked pitching, and tonight they got good pitching."
Nice try, Phil, but the standings say the Twins had the worst record in baseball, even before they traded closer Rick Aguilera to Boston and No. 2 starter Scott Erickson to the Orioles.
A bad team. But very good against the Orioles, and they jumped all over McDonald, who was making his second start since being activated off the disabled list last Friday.
Chuck Knoblauch, the Twins' pesky leadoff hitter, singled to start the first. Rich Becker flied to left and Kirby Puckett flied to right, but designated hitter Pedro Munoz, who really hurt the Orioles in Camden Yards earlier this month, drove a fastball into the left-field stands. McDonald intended to throw the pitch up and in, and it was a little too far down, a little too far over the plate. The Twins led 2-0.
Two outs into the third, Palmeiro lofted a homer over the baggy in right field, his 20th of the year and his fourth in four days. Palmeiro went into the All-Star break with 24 straight hitless at-bats, and the worst such streak of his career, and little more than a week later, he is in the midst of his best power surge ever.
Rather than roll over in the presence of a contender, however, the Twins knocked out McDonald in the bottom of the third. With one out, Knoblauch singled and stole second. Becker singled, as well, and Twins third base coach Scott Ulger held up both hands for Knoblauch -- Stop!
Becker stole second, with Orioles second baseman Manny Alexander short-hopping catcher Greg Zaun's throw and preventing Knoblauch from scoring. For the moment.
Puckett flied to right, Knoblauch easily beating Kevin Bass' throw home, and then the Twins started teeing off against McDonald.
Munoz lined a single to left, driving home Becker. McDonald, coming to the set position with Marty Cordova at the plate, stopped and started his hands, and umpire John Shulock called a balk.
Cordova then singled and Munoz scored and McDonald was finished for the night after just 2 2/3 innings, matching his shortest outing of the year on May 16, at Detroit.
The Orioles showed some life in the fourth inning. Harold Baines singled, and Bass doubled into the left-center-field gap, the ball barely eluding left fielder Cordova and center fielder Becker and bouncing into the stands.
The Orioles needed a hit at that point. A walk. An error, anything to perpetuate the inning. But Jeff Manto grounded to short, scoring Baines, Zaun grounded to second and Goodwin chopped a ball back to the pitcher. They got a little when they needed a whole lot.
After that, Radke joined the legions of other struggling pitchers who found their good stuff against the Orioles this year, the Pat Hentgens and Juan Guzmans and Mike Trombleys. He retired the Orioles in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, his streak of outs reaching 12 (this is a sign of a bad team: Radke is now only the second Twins pitcher to retire 12 straight this year).
Radke hit Anderson leading off the eighth inning, and was replaced by left-hander Eddie Guardado. The Orioles needed a hit from pinch hitter Bret Barberie, a walk. An error. Something. Something to bring Palmeiro to the plate as the potential tying run.
But Barberie bounced into a double play.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: The Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 1:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (6-6, 5.45) vs. Twins' Frankie Rodriguez (0-3, 10.07)