The Baltimore Orioles played a Mike Flanagan game for Mike Flanagan.

That's a game with few runs, an error or two and terrible clutch hitting. The Orioles got all those things tonight as Mike Smithson threw a nine-hitter at them, and the Minnesota Twins won, 5-2, before 9,257 at the Metrodome.

Flanagan lost for the fourth time this season despite allowing just five hits and three earned runs in seven decent innings. His one mistake was a third-inning breaking pitch that right fielder Tom Brunansky hit into the left field seats, the first of two homers for Brunansky this night.

The homer didn't come until after Eddie Murray's error put Mickey Hatcher on base, which has been normal luck for Flanagan.

"Obviously, it wasn't good enough," Flanagan said. "We didn't score many runs, but there's nothing I can do about that. The pitch Brunansky hit wasn't a strike. It was a mistake in that he hit a home run, but it wasn't a strike."

In Flanagan's 36 innings this season, the Orioles have gotten him eight runs, five of those in one game. His ERA is a shaky 4.75, but he has pitched better than his 1-4 record indicates.

Last season, the Orioles did much the same thing, averaging 5.1 runs, but only 4.0 when Flanagan pitched. And in 1984, they scored three or fewer runs in 18 of his 34 starts -- two or fewer 12 times.

"He wasn't all that bad," Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said. "They got a bloop double by Steve Lombardozzi in the seventh and an error. That was the difference in the ballgame. It would be nice to go out and shut them out sometime."

Smithson's complete game was his fifth of the season, most in the AL. He gutted through because he made some terrific pitches and because Twins Manager Ray Miller admits he has no faith in his bullpen.

Smithson (4-2) gave the Orioles some chances, leaving nine runners on base, including four in scoring position.

The Orioles' offense was at its worst in the eighth when Fred Lynn got a one-out triple and was left there by Jim Dwyer and John Shelby, and in the fifth and seventh innings when Cal Ripken twice left the tying run on second base.

"It's hard to tell how good Smithson was, because we're not hitting," Weaver said. "He didn't look like Dwight Gooden, but he got the job done."

He's done more than that. At 31, he has become the rock of the Twins pitching staff and the one guy Miller can count on.

"He's been gutty all year," Miller said. "When I came here, we talked about winning on nights when you didn't have your best stuff. He had good stuff tonight, but three or four times out he has won without it."

So the Orioles (12-13) are again a game below .500 after this 3-4 trip. They will return to Memorial Stadium Friday for a 13-day, 13-game homestand, beginning it in sixth place, five games behind the first-place Cleveland Indians in the AL East.

"All we're doing is spinning our wheels," Weaver said.

The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the second when Flanagan gave Gary Gaetti a one-out walk and allowed singles by Lombardozzi and Billy Beane.

It went to 3-0 in the third when Murray's second error of the year put Hatcher on for Brunansky.

The Orioles came back, closing it to 3-2 in the fifth, but left runners on first and second. Dwyer led off with a triple off the tarp in right field and scored on Shelby's single to center.

Floyd Rayford, who ended the game in a zero-for-13 slump and was pinch-hit for in the ninth, moved Shelby to second with a hit-and-run groundout to shortstop, and Alan Wiggins (three hits) scored him with a sacrifice fly to left.

The Orioles threatened to get more when Smithson walked Mike Young, but shortstop Greg Gagne made a nice play on Ripken's grounder to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Flanagan wasn't allowing the Twins much either. After Brunansky's first homer, the Twins didn't have another hit until Gaetti got a two-out single in the sixth, and Flanagan picked him off.

But the Twins got another run off him for a 4-2 lead in the last of the seventh. Lombardozzi led off the inning with a bloop double to left and Beane drew a 3-2 walk. Gagne sacrificed and Flanagan walked Kirby Puckett to load the bases.

Hatcher scored Lombardozzi with a fly to left, and Flanagan got Kent Hrbek on a pop to Wiggins to end the seventh. The Orioles had more chances in the eighth and ninth, but Smithson got them out both times.

"The second homer by Brunansky in the eighth gave me some breathing room," Smithson said. "I had good movement, but not great control. I'm just learning to change speeds, and I'm finding out a lot of things I didn't know."

Mike Boddicker passed his final test this afternoon and will return to the active roster Saturday to pitch against the Kansas City Royals in Baltimore. He went on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his right middle finger . . . When he returns, Weaver will switch back to a five-man rotation, which will mean more juggling of pitchers. That will begin this weekend when he'll use Ken Dixon, Boddicker and Storm Davis against the Royals, and save Scott McGregor for a start Monday against the Chicago White Sox. Despite a 5.40 ERA, McGregor's best game was against the White Sox, a four-hit complete game in Chicago last week . . . Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said that even if reliever Tippy Martinez has a "miracle recovery" from his dizzy spells, it would be another two weeks or more before he could get his arm in shape enough to return to action. Doctors still are unsure what is causing the dizziness.

Catcher Rick Dempsey is three for 15 with runners in scoring position, but all the Orioles are having problems. The team average in such situations was .235 entering tonight's game.

Rayford's error Tuesday was his sixth in 11 games. A year ago, he had six in 78 games . . . Orioles right fielder Lee Lacy left the game in the second inning when his back stiffened. Young began tonight's game having struck out 11 times in his last 26 at-bats . . . His average was still a respectable .273.

Peters said the Orioles signed outfielder Nelson Simmons, 22, who was released by the Detroit Tigers, "because we think he has ability and will play in the major leagues again." Peters said he was aware of police reports in Nashville that had Simmons involved in two incidents with a girl friend on April 28. The woman told The Detroit Free Press that Simmons hit her in the face, but Peters said, "There were no charges filed. He'll be closely watched."

Pitcher Dennis Martinez, disabled with a sore arm, will see a doctor Wednesday in Baltimore. If he is cleared to pitch, he might go to Rochester for a couple of starts. If he does well there, he's a likely candidate to be traded, probably to the Twins . . . When Wiggins was thrown out trying to steal second in the third inning, it was the first time he'd been caught in eight tries. He then stole his eighth base in the seventh inning. The Orioles are 16 for 20 (.800) in steals this season.