After the Baltimore Orioles left six runners in scoring position, hit into three double plays and wasted Mike Flanagan's 7 1/3 strong innings, the ending seemed almost irrelevant.

The ending was nothing if not weird: Texas second baseman Scott Fletcher's single scored center fielder Oddibe McDowell in the last of the eighth inning to give the Rangers a 2-1 victory before 25,050 on a cool, breezy night at Arlington Stadium.

Fletcher's hit completed an improbable inning in which the Orioles picked off consecutive runners and lost because first baseman Eddie Murray dropped a throw that should have picked off McDowell.

This night, that mistake, combined with a runner getting thrown out at the plate and the silence of offensive leaders Murray and Mike Young (one for seven), combined to give the Orioles their third loss in five games, and an ugly one at that.

A night earlier, Murray couldn't handle reliever Don Aase's pickoff throw, which led to the chain of events that got the Rangers a 5-4 victory.

Tonight, Murray dropped a pickoff throw from reliever Brad Havens, thus giving McDowell a stolen base. Fletcher followed with a groundball single to right, and the Orioles had lost for the third time in five games.

"The only thing I know is that he Murray dropped the ball," Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said. "I know he didn't try to drop it. It was the same as last night. We should have blown 'em out of two games."

Flanagan was more than a little upset about being pulled in the eighth with a left-handed hitter, McDowell, coming up.

Flanagan bit the words off as he said: "I felt fine. I had pretty good stuff. No one great pitch, but I thought I pitched pretty good. I'm never pleased with coming out of a game. I try to go nine. It is a little uncommon to be taken out with a lefty coming up.

"I get paid to pitch, and Weaver gets paid to manage, and I don't argue."

The game was tied, 1-1, in the eighth when Flanagan allowed first baseman Tom Paciorek's leadoff single. Texas Manager Bobby Valentine sent George Wright in to run for Paciorek, and Flanagan promptly picked off Wright.

Flanagan than walked third baseman Steve Buechele, and Weaver came to the mound and waved in another lefty, Brad Havens.

Buchele tried to run on Havens, and catcher Rick Dempsey's throw to second beat him by so much that Buechele tried to scramble back to first, where he was thrown out by shortstop Cal Ripken.

So, two outs. Havens then walked McDowell, and McDowell promptly took off for second base.

Havens was thinking along with him, and fired a throw to Murray, who should have had plenty of time to get him at second. But Murray dropped the ball and Fletcher followed with the hit that made Havens (0-1) a loser.

Murray doesn't shoulder all the blame because the Orioles made pitchers Mickey Mahler and Greg Harris (1-1) look like the second coming of Cy Young, at least when it counted.

Mahler struggled for 6 1/3 innings, allowing a staggering 13 base runners, but only one run. The Orioles scored in the fourth when center fielder Fred Lynn singled, Young walked and Dempsey got an RBI double.

He almost had two RBI because third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr. waved in Young, who was thrown out by Fletcher at the plate.

The Orioles had many more chances, leaving runners on base in each of the first seven innings, six of them on second or third. Their best chance was in the second when they had the bases loaded with one out and got a double-play grounder from third baseman Juan Bonilla.

Dempsey was left on second in the fourth, and Ripken (who doubled) in the fifth.

In the sixth, they had runners at first and third with one out, only to have Dempsey hit into a double play. In the seventh, they had runners on first and second, but Ripken hit into a double play.

In five games, the Orioles are hitting a chilling .167 with runners in scoring position (seven for 42). They're so bad that Weaver actually found a reason to be happy.

"We're not hitting with men on, but we will," he said. "I hope our pitching stays just as it is because we'll win a lot of games."

He almost second-guessed himself for taking out Flanagan, saying: "I'll be glad when we get six or seven runs and can build the pitchers up to 120 pitches Flanagan threw 111 . Every time now, the game is on the line, so you go for the fresh arm."

Was Flanagan losing it?

"Some of his curve balls were starting to spin, but that may not mean anything," he said. "You just don't know."

The Orioles' day at the stadium began with Weaver calling a brief meeting to tell them, in part, to forget about Friday's loss.

"That was a downer," he said, "and we need to get it behind us."

It looked for awhile that Flanagan would be good enough to win even for a team not hitting. He finished the fifth inning having faced only one hitter over the minimum number, but allowed a run in the sixth when Buechele singled and McDowell walked, Fletcher moved them up with a groundout and Toby Harrah followed with an infield single.

Flanagan retired four more in a row until Paciorek opened the eighth with a single.