The Orioles' little game of catch up is growing wearier and a little less successful every day. For the fourth straight game Baltimore spotted the opposition two runs in the first inning, and for the third straight time the Orioles lost, this time 9-4 to the Cleveland Indians at Memorial Stadium.

The loss dropped the Orioles' lead in the American League East to a half-game over Detroit.

The Indians, the last-place team in the East Division, blasted Storm Davis and Dennis Martinez for nine runs before the Orioles woke up and scored all four of their runs in the fourth--on Joe Nolan's grand slam.

It probably isn't a coincidence that the three-game losing streak has come while Eddie Murray has been out of the lineup with a strained right knee. "Eddie could have pinch hit tonight," said Manager Joe Altobelli, "If it had meant anything."

But it didn't mean much after the third inning when Cleveland scored six runs to take a 9-0 lead. As has been the trend lately, the opposing team jumped to a two-run lead in the first on a home run. Toby Harrah led off the game with a single off Davis (10-5) and scored two outs later on Andre Thornton's blast into left-center field.

"The first inning has really been our nemesis," said Altobelli.

Baltimore's other nemesis tonight was Cleveland's Rick Sutcliffe (13-7), who threw 157 pitches and still was soaking his arm in ice 35 minutes after the game. "Excuse me, but if I don't do this now, I'm not going to have an arm tomorrow," Sutcliffe said on his way to the training room.

After Nolan's grand slam--his second home run of the season--with one out in the fourth, Sutcliffe allowed only one more hit--an infield single to Cal Ripken with two out in the fifth.

As catcher Ron Hassey explained, Sutcliffe varied from his usual method of power pitching. "In the third inning, he threw three or four screwballs and they went straight down," Hassey said. "He usually sticks with his fast ball and slider. But he had the screwball tonight, and he used it to strike out guys."

Hassey was asked if Sutcliffe grew tired in the 95 degree heat, having to throw all those pitches. "He had a lot of 3-2, 3-1 counts," said Hassey. "But he's been successful with it, and we're aware of the pattern, so you stay with him."

The mere presence of Davis on the mound tonight, for those who believe in trends, was supposed to guarantee the Orioles victory. Five times this season, Davis has stopped losing streaks of two or more games.

But after the rocky first inning, Cleveland rallied again in the third. Harrah, again, started the rally by singling to right. Mike Fischlin followed with a hit to the same spot. And Harrah scored when Baltimore third baseman Todd Cruz followed a nice barehanded pickup of Pat Tabler's soft roller with a wild throw to first.

Altobelli elected to walk Thornton, which loaded the bases, and the move backfired when Broderick Perkins singled for two more runs and a 5-0 lead. Hassey singled for 6-0. And then the Orioles turned to Dennis Martinez, the forlorn 6-14 pitcher, who ran in from the bullpen accompanied by the song, "Help, I Need Somebody."

The Orioles needed somebody other than Martinez, who promptly walked Julio Franco on four pitches, then gave up a two-run single to George Vukovich. Martinez, who was booed loudly upon entering the game, allowed the ninth run on a sacrifice fly.

In the fourth, the Orioles loaded the bases for Nolan when Ripken's double was followed by walks to John Lowenstein and Ken Singleton.

Cleveland shortstop Franco, a rookie phenom, took away hits by ranging deep in the hole once and twice to the right of second base to get grounders. He threw out Cruz from the outfield grass.

But Cruz would have the last say, and drive Cleveland's Gorman Thomas crazy. Thomas already had been robbed of a double in the seventh when Cruz threw his body near the line to snag the ball. But in the ninth, with men on first and second, Thomas hit another ball down the line, this one even harder than the first.

Cruz went into the dirt again to make the stop on once bounce, then got up, stepped on third for the force, and in the same one-foot-in-the-air motion, fired to first to get Thomas.

Thomas, hitting .196 coming into the game, was so infuriated he ran into the dugout tearing off his shirt. There was a slight laugh from the crowd of 24,324; it was about the only fun it had this evening.