Manager Earl Weaver, hoping to boost his Orioles' lagging spirits and their scoring, tonight moved Cal Ripken Jr. to shortstop for the first game this year.
It didn't work.
In fact, nothing worked against the Cleveland Indians, who swept their first series in Memorial Stadium since 1968 with a 6-2 victory.
The sagging Orioles, who three days ago were playing .750 baseball for their last 20 games, now will try to regroup this weekend in Detroit against the Tigers, another team familiar with losing streaks.
With this loss, the Orioles became even more mired in a hitting slump that has seen them get 15 hits and four runs in three games against the surging Indians. In their previous 57 games, the Orioles had outscored their opponents by 82 runs. But in this three-game series, the Indians outscored their more-than-hospitable hosts, 24-4.
Of course, the Orioles got little help tonight from Len Barker (9-4), who surrendered two runs in the first, then gave up just two hits the next six innings. Barker, the league's strikeout leader the last two seasons, finished with nine strikeouts and just two walks. He gave way in the eighth to Dan Spillner, who, despite three hits' worth of scare, earned his ninth save.
No Oriole has been immune to the bug that has, with no warning, bitten the team's bats. Not even Ripken, who went zero for four with three strikeouts after hitting .347 his previous 19 games. And certainly not Lenn Sakata and Bob Bonner, whose miseries at the plate (Sakata is hitting .150 in his last 15 games; Bonner hasn't had a hit in 15 at bats) prompted Weaver to put Floyd Rayford at third and move Ripken to short.
"Maybe he (Weaver) just wanted to change something, do something a little different to get us going," said Ripken, who hadn't played shortstop since last year, in the minors. "But I know it didn't do anything to my hitting. I completely separate fielding and hitting. When you're in the field, you don't take your bat with you, and you don't take your glove to the plate with you.
"All I know is we haven't lost three in a row in a long time and there's no reason to push the panic button and go changing things around."
With their bats quiet, the Orioles didn't have much luck on the mound, either. Dennis Martinez, who had won four straight and six of his last seven decisions, fell victim to the same middle-inning blues that have plagued all Oriole pitchers in recent weeks.
He came back from a three-run first to give up just one hit the next three innings. But he allowed a run in the fifth and another in the seventh before Weaver replaced him with Tim Stoddard.
Martinez's loss dropped his record to 8-5 and broke his string of 14 consecutive decisions at home, a streak that dated back to August 1980.
In the Baltimore first, Ken Singleton drove in Rich Dauer with a double down the third base line and Eddie Murray followed with a double to the opposite outfield corner, which scored Singleton.
But as Barker, who struck out three batters that inning anyway, heated up, the Orioles cooled off.
Rayford, who, with a batting average of .125, would not have appeared to be the answer to the Orioles' problems, did hit two balls hard off Barker. But both were run down in the outfield.
The Indians, who have won 23 of their last 34, were willing to take advantage of the Orioles' misfortunes. After Von Hayes staked them to their first-inning lead with his sixth homer this year, they got a run in each of the fifth, seventh and ninth innings.
The ninth inning was the culmination of the Orioles' frustrations. With two out, Alan Bannister hit a ball between the mound and first base that Stoddard fielded easily but took too much time getting to Murray. Murray's throw to the plate was too late to catch Mike Fischlin.
Weaver had no explanation and little optimism. "There is nothing to say. It's unexplainable," he said. "It's baseball and that's all there is to it."