What it came down to, according the best right-handed hitter in the American League this season, was that he guessed what pitch he would get, he got it and he still couldn't do anything with it.

Brian Downing had the moment in the sun all good hitters dream about this evening. Two out in the ninth, a run behind after a spectacular come-back by his California Angels, bases-loaded and his .326 average at the plate.

"When it counted," said the Angel catcher, "I couldn't do it. That's what irritates me."

Downing topped the slider he was waiting for from Oriole reliever Don Stanhouse. It bounced down the third base line into Doug DeCines' glove and shut the door on a 9-8 Oriole win and a 2-0 Baltimore lead in the best-of-five American League championship series.

Downing is a shining light in the most fearsome batting order in the American League. Or is it?

"The only guy on this team who's swinging the bat well right now is Dan Ford. Don (Baylor, the Angel strongman) hasn't been swinging well, but he seems to be finding it," said Downing.

"The guy who's really screwing up is me."

The Angels put on a brave clubhouse front after their near-miss at Memorial Stadium. Down 9-1, they had pecked and clawed to the brink of stunning upset.

"You know, we could have just walked off the field then (at 9-1), if we were gonna quit," said Ford, who hit a first-inning solo homer, his second of the playoffs, and a single in the ninth-inning rally.

"We're a come-from-behind ball club anyway. We feel the two games we played we should have won. We're going home. We'll have the fans on our side now and that will generate us. We're gonna get our backs off the wall."

But no team in either league has come back from a 2-0 deficit to win the playoff series.

Even Rod Carew, the man with the sweetest swing in baseball, could not stifle a sigh as he zipped up a black leather travel bag for the eight-hour haul home.

"I don't care how many runs you lose by," said Carew, "You keep battling and battling. And every loss is a hard one."

The Angels lost in the 10th inning Wednesday and the ninth today. If those close calls have the players dejected, they are giving Mananger Jim Fregosi fits.

Will he call a team meeting before Friday's contest in Anaheim?

"What I do in my clubhouse is my business, right?" snapped the manager.

"All we've got to do is win three in a row. We've done it before. That's exactly the way we look at it."

On Friday Fregosi is going with a starter, Frank Tanana, whom he admits is operating at less than 100 percent. "Nobody who's been out of action as long as he has this season is 100 percent," said Fregosi.

And he is going with a cleanup hitter in Don Baylor who says he hopes his two hits today indicate his swing is coming back to him. And Downing is complaining that he cannot figure out what is wrong with his swing.

And he has a problem with long relief pitcher Mark Clear, who lead the Orioles in check for five innings today after initial problems. Clear may not see action again this year, Fregosi said the pitcher has a bad shoulder that is acting up.

So what is good with the Angels?

"We proved to ourselves we could score some runs today," said second baseman Bobby Grich. "We hit their best pitcher (Mike Flanagan) and their best reliever (Stanhouse). Now we'll get the good vibrations from the home-town crowd."

The Angels made one other thing crystal clear.

They will not go down without a fight.

When DeCinces fielded Downing's pathetic game-ender he had four bases to choose from. A force at home, third, second or first would end it.

He held his ground and challenged Ford, who was barrelling in from second base.

DeCines went for the tag and Ford gave no quarter. Ford crossed his arms like a football lineman and jolted the third baseman, chest high, trying to jar the ball loose.

Fregosi got a chuckle out of that.

"One thing we don't lack from is being unaggressive," he said.

Added muscleman Baylor, "If it had been me, I'd have done the same thing. Only harder."