The Baltimore Orioles did not simply lose a game tonight. They lost one that was tantalizingly in their hands, that seemed to slip away at least twice, only to be delivered on a silver platter in the ninth inning, only to slip away again.
For the record, it will be just another June loss, a 3-2 decision the Milwaukee Brewers won on Robin Yount's sacrifice fly in the last of the ninth inning before 10,991 fans on a 56-degree night at County Stadium.
For the record, this loss did almost nothing to the American League East standings. The 33-21 Orioles lost for only the eighth time in 29 games and remained three games behind first-place Boston and one game in front of third-place New York.
Yet, the Orioles may remember this one because:
*They wasted yet another outstanding pitching performance by Storm Davis, who scattered eight hits over 8 1/3 innings. He has allowed three or fewer runs in nine of his 12 starts but has only a 5-5 record to show for it.
*They left a staggering seven runners on base the final three innings.
*They had the go-ahead run on third with one out in the top of the ninth and left it there, getting a foul pop from Alan Wiggins and a flyout to right by Lee Lacy.
"What it comes down to is that Alan didn't get good wood on the ball," Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said. "He has hit .300 the last few weeks, but I'm not even asking for a hit. I'm asking for a fly ball to the outfield. They didn't get a hit from Yount, but they won the game."
Yount, who entered the game hitting .364, the second-best average in the American League, said: "I was just looking for something I could hit hard. The biggest thing was not to swing at a bad pitch."
A half-inning earlier, with the score tied, 2-2, John Shelby and Floyd Rayford led off with singles against reliever Dan Plesac (4-3).
Weaver had Rick Dempsey, who had hit his seventh homer in the sixth, bunt the runners to second and third, which he did. That left it up to Wiggins, who left Shelby on third.
"I just didn't do the job," Wiggins said. "That's it. I should have hit the first pitch he threw me out of the park. I just got under the second one. I have no excuses."
He can't shoulder all the blame, because the Orioles left five other runners on second or third this night.
Regardless, the Brewers won the game in the last of the ninth when Ernest Riles singled to right and Rick Cerone somehow sliced an inside fastball to right field for an opposite-field double.
That brought up Mike Felder with first base open and Yount on deck. Weaver decided to bring in reliever Rich Bordi and have him intentionally walk Felder to set up the double play.
"I just figure that's the best way to keep them from scoring," he said. "We needed a ground ball. They got one in the top of the inning, and we didn't get one."
Of Cerone's hit, Davis said: "When I threw him the first pitch, I saw him lunge at the ball, so I knew he was looking outside. I wanted to come back inside and jam him. I'm thinking he'll hit one to third or short, but he blooped it to right.
"Any time you give up three or fewer runs you've done your job, but there's no use crying over spilled milk now. We just need to go out and win tomorrow. We might score 11 tomorrow."
The Brewers had Davis on the ropes in each of the first two innings, especially in the first when Milwaukee took a 2-0 lead and had the bases loaded with none out.
He got himself into trouble by walking Felder, allowing a Yount single and walking Cecil Cooper. That loaded the bases, and Ben Oglivie sliced a two-run single to left.
Rookie Dale Sveum beat out an infield single to again load the bases, but Davis got out of the inning with no one else scoring. He got Rob Deer on a pop to second baseman Wiggins, and Jim Gantner and Riles on flyouts to left.
After that, Davis was outstanding, allowing the Brewers only five more hits, and he was at his best in the fifth when he struck out the side.
Regardless, it didn't appear that it would matter much because Milwaukee rookie Juan Nieves was even better, limiting the Orioles to only two hits the first five innings.
But Dempsey's home run closed the game to 2-1 in the sixth and the Orioles tied the game in the seventh, although they still missed on a chance to do more.
Juan Beniquez led off the seventh with a single off the left field wall. After Mike Young was safe on Nieves' throwing error, Shelby lined a single to left.
Beniquez held at third, and Brewers Manager George Bamberger brought in Plesac, another rookie, to face Rayford.
Plesac did the job, sort of, striking out Rayford on a curveball in the dirt. That was the good news for Milwaukee. The bad news was that the ball got away from Cerone and rolled to the backstop, which allowed Beniquez to score and the other runners to move to second and third.
Plesac walked Dempsey to again load the bases but got Wiggins on a groundout to Riles to end the inning.
Reliever Nate Snell rejoined the Orioles this afternoon, although he probably won't be able to pitch for a few more days. He suffered a bruised right foot when he was struck by a liner off the bat of Seattle's Ken Phelps last Thursday. . . . Pitcher Dennis Martinez, who has finished his rehabilitation assignment at Rochester, will meet with Orioles General Manager Hank Peters Tuesday, and indications are that Martinez will be released. His lone hope for returning to the 24-man roster is that some people in the organization are still arguing against eating the remaining $350,000 of his $500,000 contract. . . . The Orioles' 18 runs Sunday at Yankee Stadium were the most they have scored since getting 18 against Cleveland on Sept. 28, 1973. Their 22 hits were the most in a game since getting 26 against the California Angels on Aug. 28, 1980.