Baltimore, running the bases like the not-ready-for-prime-time Orioles, lost to Boston, 6-2, tonight in a perfect example of a game that could be looked at with either short-term sarcasm or long-range optimism.
As baseball pratfalls are rated, the O's pulled two slapstick beauts tonight to kill crucial sixth- and seventh-inning rallies when they trailed only 3-2.
Had Eddie Murray not slipped rounding third in the sixth and been trapped off base, and had Kiko Garcia not pulled a classic of well-intentioned but boneheaded baserunning in the seventh, the O's might have taken command of this game by several runs.
Instead, they squandered the potential of a half-dozen line-drive hits and stranded a platoon of runners. The Sox, glad for any gift, finally rallied for three eighth-inning runs to put the floundering Birds out of their misery.
The two Bird blunders were both aggressive, but nonetheless painful.
After the Sox had taken a 3-1 lead thanks to a two-run homer by Jim Rice and a bases-empty shot by Butch Hobson, both into the screen, the O's fought back to cut the margin to 3-2 in the sixth on Lee May's RBI single.
With one cut and two on, Gary Roenicke lashed a single to left. Murray, on second, had no chance to score, but third base coach Cal Ripken did not hold him rounding third until the last instant.
Murray - who had singled home the O's first run in the first - slammed on the brakes, had his feet fly out, then crawled back toward third like a basic-training recruit under machine-gun fire, squirming on his elbows. He almost made it. But Hobson's diving tag nailed him by inches.
Rich Dauer's subsequent long fly, which was the third out, would have made an exemplary sacrifice fly to tie the score with Murray at third.
Had that sixth inning continued - hypothetically - then the leadoff hits of Garcia and Dave Skaggs to start the seventh might have finished off an even larger Oriole blitz.
Even so, those two singles might have lit a nice fire under the Sox had Garcia not taken it into his head to try to go first-to-third with no outs on the arm of stellar Fred Lynn. Garcia was out by 15 feet.
Garcia's gamble broke every known canon of baserunning. "Kiko's young and he just overhustled," said O's Manager Earl Weaver.
Third-baseman Doug DeCinces, due back within a few days, cannot return too soon to suit the O's. Garcia, exposed to continuous scrutiny, cannot stay out of harm's way. Last year, he was second in the AL in an obscure statistic - game-losing errors (4). With another error tonight, he now has eight errors this season.
Taken in the long view, however, the Orioles suffered little here, despite losing two of three to go from a half-game in first place to a half-game behind the Sox.
The O's bad news was starter and loser Steve Stone; the good was powerful five-inning reliever Sammy Stewart.
"I haven't been this inconsistent since I was a rookie," said Stone, now 3-2 but wild and gopher-ball prone (10) all year. "The pitches that Rice and Hobson hit out were hangers right up in their faces. Those pitches were so bad that I think I could have hit them out."
But perhaps not so well as the Sox musclemen, who drilled both shots high in the net through a strong dead-in wind.
While Stone continued to put his status as a starter in jeopardy, Stewart challenged the heart of the Sox order well, despite not having pitched in 18 days. He tired after throwing 96 pitches.
"Some people might think Earl left him in too long," said the O's Mike Flanagan, "but Sammy was making good pitches and getting his feet wet in this park against a good team. Earl knows how to build his players' confidence for the long haul. He doesn't manage for just one game, but for the next 100. He just knows the game inside out."
"Over 162 games," said Belanger, "we'll make a hundred mistakes like the ones we did tonight. You look for the bigger things."