The Baltimore Orioles probably should spend the three days of the All-Star break writing on the blackboard one thousand times: "We will make the simple plays. We will make the simple . . . "
They completed their worst first half since 1976 today with a 5-3 loss to Tom Seaver and the Chicago White Sox before 45,149 mumbling, grumbling fans in Memorial Stadium.
Three of the Chicago runs scored on bunts -- two safety squeezes and one suicide squeeze. "Never seen three in one game before," said White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
"Like Little League," said losing pitcher Mike Boddicker, who forgot to cover first on one bunt and let an RBI single go between his legs.
When the Orioles weren't misjudging easy fly balls or bollixing grounders, they were forgetting to cover bases or getting thrown out on them.
The newest Orioles, the ones who were supposed to transform last season's fifth-place fellows into pennant contenders, made dubious contributions this 90-degree afternoon.
Lee Lacy completely misjudged a routine fly ball, turning an important out into a bloop double at the heart of a three-run White Sox fifth inning. That mistake meant one run and perhaps two.
He also let Seaver off the hook in the first inning when, with one out, he tried to go from first to third on Cal Ripken's hit and was out, courtesy of Harold Baines' arm, by a yard.
Second baseman Alan Wiggins, zero for his last 13 and hitting .195, booted a simple grounder to start the ninth, which led to a run. Actually, he kicked the thing three times. If he'd just let the ball subside at his feet, he'd have had his man by yards. "It'll make the bloopers film," said Earl Weaver.
Fred Lynn struck out four times as Seaver, who won his 297th game, struck out 11 before Dan Spillner relieved him to get the final out.
Reliever Don Aase, he of the $2 million contract and 5.21 ERA, inherited a 4-3 ninth-inning deficit and quickly allowed a run.
When this game ended with John Shelby taking a fast ball down the pipe with the tying runs on base, it seemed the logical conclusion to a 44-41 Baltimore season that has been one long succession of herky-jerky mind benders.
When the Orioles cut a 9-0 deficit to 9-8 in the fifth inning Saturday night, it looked like they might go to the all-star break with a four-game sweep and, perhaps, as little as 5 1/2 games behind Toronto.
Instead, Saturday's comeback stalled, a 2-0 lead was squandered this afternoon and the Orioles are 7 1/2 games in arrears.
The bad news is that they are 26-32 since an 18-9 start and 21-22 in close games. The latter is proof that they are not functioning as a well-knit team. Only four times in the 15 years have they been more than six games out at the all-star break.
The only rosy parallel that might be drawn, and it takes considered goodwill to manage the trick, is to 1980. Baltimore was 42-36, in fourth place and nine games behind New York, yet finished with 100 victories and barely lost a great race.
"We could still win 100," Weaver said. "Lemme see, what would it take?"
Before the Orioles think pennant, they might think baseball. Leading, 2-0, in the fifth, a grounder evaded Murray for a single and a slice double by Mark Ryal (hitting .176) put men at second and third.
Weak-hitting Tim Hullet poked a fly to right on which Lacy went back, then sideways, before finally racing in too late. RBI double. Men at second and third.
Boddicker visited Murray and said, "Look for the bunt."
Murray played his normal deep position. Ozzie Guillen bunted to Murray. Boddicker, assuming Murray was close in, never moved to cover first. As a run scored and all hands were safe, Boddicker and Murray stared at each other.
Up came Bryan Little, who coach Terry Crowley had told the team "bunts every time up." Little had also bunted for a hit -- to shortstop.
Surprise, he bunted again, squeezing home a run.
To add insult to injury, Little also squeezed home a run in the ninth against Aase -- bunting straight back to the big, unprepared pitcher.
Earlier this week, Weaver said, "We have to start winning games when we score three or four runs."
Brilliant as Seaver was much of the afternoon, this was the sort of game that many Orioles teams -- those that caught routine fly balls, fielded grounders, anticipated bunts and played as a unit -- turned into tight victories.
Now, they're just loose losses.