O's 6-pack has bitter, losing taste Brewers finish sweep, 6-4, beat Mussina to extend win drought; Loss is 10th in 15 games; Offense fails to cash in on 2-error gift in 8th

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A bad day that became a bad week has officially evolved into a bad month. Unable to take advantage of another late-inning opportunity, the Orioles completed a weekend washout against the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday in a 6-4 loss that looked painfully familiar.

Not even a Mike Mussina start, a Roberto Alomar home run or a two-error play by the Brewers could rescue the Orioles from their sixth straight loss.

It's become enough of a downer that manager Davey Johnson turned a question about eight stranded runners into positive spin. "We hadn't been on," said Johnson. "That was a good sign."

The bad sign: The unsettling three-game sweep was the first by the Brewers against the Orioles since Aug. 16-18, 1991. Not since April 13-15, 1987, had they done the deed in Baltimore.

The Brewers' previous ineptness on the road only made the hurt worse. They exited the All-Star break 12-30 on the road, while the Orioles were 25-13 at home. The sweep equaled the Brewers' longest road winning streak this season.

The worse sign: The Orioles never led in the series, managed only 17 hits and have now held a lead in seven of their last 54 innings played.

Good sign, Part II (or the closest thing to it): The charging New York Yankees lost, keeping them 4 1/2 games back.

"We're still in first place. We can't feel pressure because the Yankees are getting closer and closer," Alomar said. "You can't look back. Just keep looking forward, and whatever happens happens."

What's happening now isn't good. The Orioles have lost six straight for the first time since April 19-25, 1996. The Orioles left yesterday's game with a .269 team average, one of six AL teams below .270.

Asked for his theory, Rafael Palmeiro, one of the few to have a good series offensively (6-for-12), offered a common sentiment: "It's baseball, man. It's baseball."

But it's definitely not Orioles baseball, the kind that left them a nine-game lead as recently as June 22. On June 12, before they began a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, the Orioles were hitting .280, fourth in the league. Since, they have scraped around at a .245 pace.

Even the acquisition of designated hitter Geronimo Berroa has done little to slow the slide. Since Berroa played his first game here June 29, the Orioles are hitting .254 with a 5-7 record. The sore-shouldered Berroa still hasn't found his footing within a new lineup; Johnson put him in the No. 2 hole yesterday. A single yesterday raised his Orioles average to .167 with one extra-base hit and four RBIs in 48 at-bats.

Indeed, yesterday's loss, the Orioles' 10th in 15 games, reinforced the perception of a once-robust team now too thin to function fully.

Catcher Lenny Webster never had made more than four straight starts in the majors until Chris Hoiles partially tore his right medial collateral ligament June 16. He has resembled a workhorse since. Though Webster caught Saturday night's 3-2 loss, Johnson approached him about catching 15 hours later within a Sunday blast furnace. The alternative was giving 0-for-13 Tim Laker his fifth start.

Working on two sore legs, center fielder Brady Anderson fell deeper into a 1-for-20 slump that has dragged his average to a season-low .292. Hoiles reports to Bowie tomorrow to begin a rehab assignment. Webster has started 39 games, six fewer than Hoiles.

Yesterday, Webster played with a bad cold. When the game's most critical situation found him in the eighth inning, he went to the plate lightheaded. "I've got to do what I can to help this team win, even if that means going out there six out of seven days," Webster said. "If that's what Davey wants, then that's what I'll do. But it's definitely tough."

Mussina (10-3) allowed five runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. He fell behind 2-0 on Dave Nilsson's first-inning home run with two outs. Nilsson entered the game hitting .050 (1-for-20) against Mussina.

One of the few Orioles not fighting a slump, Alomar answered in the third inning with an opposite-field, two-run homer off Brewers starter Jeff D'Amico (7-4), who beat the Orioles for the second time in 20 days.

Mussina, bothered by the flu all week, was undone in the sixth inning by a series of extra-base hits. Jeromy Burnitz led off with a double, but the rally appeared headed nowhere until Jose Valentin doubled over first base with two outs. Former Oriole Jack Voigt added the final insult when he followed with a two-run homer to left. Voigt has four home runs in 47 at-bats this season, two this weekend.

Four of the Orioles' past six losses have come by one or two runs, only intensifying the pain.

"It's not like we're getting wiped out by the other team," Alomar said. "We're in close games. But they're making the right moves."

Added Webster: "Every ballclub is going to experience it during the course of the year that old Murphy's Law thing. Whenever something can go wrong, it does go wrong. At some point you've just got to smile about it, because it'll bring you down if you don't. You have to laugh about it just to keep your sanity."

If so, yesterday's eighth inning was a laugh riot. Given a chance to break out against the Brewers' bullpen, the Orioles instead failed to get a ball out of the infield with the tying run on base.

With the Orioles trailing 5-3, Alomar and Palmeiro led off with ground-ball singles over second base against left-hander Ron Villone. With right-hander Bob Wickman on the scene, Cal Ripken followed with a routine ground ball to first that ended in a two-error circus. Tim Unroe booted the ball toward second. Unwilling to let the play die, second baseman Mark Loretta forced a throw to Wickman covering. The throw sailed behind him, allowing Alomar to score and Palmeiro to take third.

The inning then collapsed.

With none out, Palmeiro was ordered to run on contact. When B. J. Surhoff topped a grounder to second, Palmeiro was easily thrown out at the plate, but the tying run remained in scoring position.

"It's 2-0 [count] with B. J., first-and-third. I expect the score to at least be tied, and that's a whole different ballgame," said Johnson.

But this wasn't different. Jeffrey Hammonds walked to load the bases, and Webster appeared. Saturday night, Johnson allowed him to bat against the right-handed Wickman in the seventh inning with two outs and the tying run at second. Webster grounded out on a checked swing. This time, he lashed a one-hop grounder to Loretta, who began a rally-killing double play. Murphy's Law rules.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Blue Jays' Robert Person (3-5, 4.80) vs. Orioles' Scott Kamieniecki (6-4, 3.92)

Tickets: 1,300 remain

Alums' revenge

Three of Milwaukee's ex-Orioles had the weekend of their lives upon returning to Camden Yards:

Jack Voigt before series

Avg. .. .. ..(H-AB) .. ..R .. ..HR .. .. .RBI

.229 .. .. ..(8-35) .. ..4 .. ...2 .. .. ...7

Weekend stats

.333 .. .. ..(4-12) .. ..2 .. ...2 .. .. ...3

Ben McDonald before series

W-L .. .. .. .ERA .. ...IP .. ...H .. ..ER .. ..K

7-6 .. .. ...4.24 .. ...121 .. .114 .. .57 ...102

Weekend stats

1-0 .. .. ...0.00 .. .. .6 .. ...0 .. ...0 .. ..4

Doug Jones before series

Sv .. .. .. ..ERA .. ...IP .. ...H .. ..ER .. ..K

20 .. .. .. .2.70 .. ..43.1 .. ..41 ....13 .. .47

Weekend stats

3 .. .. .. ..0.00 .. .. .3 .. .. 1... ...0 .. ..2

Off on wrong foot

A quick review of the Orioles' ineptitude in a three-game sweep by the Brewers to open the second half:

They never held the lead

Went 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

Brewers' wild pitches and errors contributed to three of the Orioles' five scoring innings (four of five if you count Geronimo Berroa's disputed single in third inning yesterday) in the series.

Pitching

Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson and Mike Mussina took a 33-10 record into weekend, but finished it 0-3. They yielded five homers in 18 2/3 innings after entering series with 31 in 356 1/3 , or one every 11 1/2 innings. Their combined pitching line:

IP .. .. ...H .. ..ER .. ..BB .. ..K .. ..HR

...18 2/3 .. .. ..23 .. .10 .. ...4 .. ..11 .. ..5

Hitting

The Orioles' offense was woeful, managing just seven runs and 17 hits (only two for extra bases) in the three games. Some of the individuals who struggled:

Ripken 0-12 .. .. .. ..Anderson 1-12

Alomar 2-12 .. .. .. ..Berroa 2-11

Surhoff 1-9 .. .. .. ..Webster 1-9

Pub Date: 7/14/97

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