BALTIMORE, JUNE 8 -- The original blueprint was not for the Baltimore Orioles to throw three rookies into their starting rotation at once, and when it happened anyway, they knew there would be some long, frustrating nights.

Tonight was another one, as Jeff Ballard didn't get out of the third inning, and the Boston Red Sox rolled to a 6-2 victory before a quiet 32,039 at Memorial Stadium.

The loss was the fifth in a row for the Orioles (27-29) and their fourth straight in this string of 26 straight games against the American League East. As they fade out of contention, they find themselves eight games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays and 1 1/2 games in front of the sixth-place Red Sox.

"I'm not getting discouraged," Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "I've seen teams like this before, and I still see things falling into place. I think we're on the verge of getting over the hump."

Maybe so, but tonight they were beaten by a combination of things, especially Ballard (2-3), the rookie starter who allowed five hits and three runs in two-plus innings. In the last 12 games, Mike Boddicker is the only Orioles starter to make it 5 2/3 innings and, if you thought Ballard might have been rushed to the major leagues, here's evidence: He has a 6.21 earned run average and in his last 12 innings has allowed nine earned runs and 29 base runners.

Meanwhile, Boston's Bob Stanley (3-7) allowed 10 hits over 6 2/3 innings, winning a starting assigment on the road for the first time since June 14, 1980. He wasn't great, but he was good enough.

The Orioles had plenty of chances, getting 12 hits, including a two-run homer from Terry Kennedy. But they again had trouble when it counted, going hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.

That's nothing new because in their last 10 games, they've batted a chilling .180 with runners on second or third.

"He got the outs when he needed to," Orioles left fielder Larry Sheets said. "It's frustrating because I had opportunities all weekend. I think I've had six chances to drive in runs and gotten one hit. I sure can't look to anyone else to blame. I can only look at myself."

A loss tonight was not what they expected, not with Boston third baseman Wade Boggs out with a bruised left arm and the Red Sox starting a lineup that included five players batting .225 or less. But the Red Sox pounded three Orioles pitchers for 11 hits, including six doubles -- two apiece by Ellis Burks and Spike Owen.

The Orioles will give reliever Dave Schmidt a start Tuesday night as the search for pitching continues. Scott McGregor pitched a scoreless eighth inning tonight, giving him three shutout innings since being moved to the bullpen.

He'll probably go back into the rotation, especially with the three rookie starters having gone 0-6 with a 6.75 ERA in their last seven appearances.

"It's a little disappointing," Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said, "but we didn't make this move before talking it over. We knew we'd have to be patient, and we won't make any other moves before talking it over."

Ballard got the Red Sox out in order in the first inning, but his trouble started in the second when Jim Rice led off with a fly ball down the right field line. Jim Dwyer slid into the corner and scooped up the ball.

Dwyer came running out of the corner signaling he'd caught it, but first base umpire Vic Voltaggio ruled the play a trap. Dwyer ran toward Voltaggio to argue, and as he did, Rice rounded the bases and scored.

Ripken came out to argue the call, and eventually the umpires met, with second base umpire Nick Bremigan overruling Voltaggio and calling Rice out. That brought Red Sox Manager John McNamara out, until he was ejected by Voltaggio.

That was about the last bad news the Red Sox got. Don Baylor followed Rice's out with a single to left and Dwight Evans got the first of four doubles off Ballard. An infield grounder by Bill Buckner scored Baylor and Ed Romero grounded out to end the second with Boston's lead only 1-0.

In the third, Marc Sullivan and Burks led off with doubles and a double by Owen scored two runs. Then, when Ballard walked Marty Barrett, Ripken sent for Mark Williamson.

"We've got to get him throwing to locations a little better," Ripken said of Ballard. "They tell me he didn't do this at {Class AAA} Rochester, that he made good pitches. Here he's been too much in the middle of the plate, and when he's been out of the strike zone, he's been way out. I don't see any progress, other than throwing more strikes."

Orioles Notes:

Buckner left the game after bruising his right hip in a fifth-inning collision with Dwyer . . . Kennedy left the game in the eighth after getting hit on the right shoulder by a foul tip from Romero . . .

This is the first time in 11 years the Orioles have been below .500 after 56 games. They're 5-12 against AL East teams, with all five victories coming against Cleveland . . .

Oil Can Boyd, who has missed the entire season with a sore right shoulder, threw two innings (38 pitches, 26 strikes) in a AAA game tonight for the Pawtucket Red Sox, then said he was ready to return to Boston.