BALTIMORE, AUG. 11 -- The rule of thumb for these Baltimore Orioles has become this: if the bullpen fails, the Orioles fail. Tonight, the bullpen did fail, and despite two more home runs from Larry Sheets, so did the Orioles. It ended 6-3, Cleveland, before 23,517 at Memorial Stadium.

While his team's three-game winning streak ended, Sheets streaked on, connecting for his 23rd and 24th homers -- his third pair in five games.

Both came off left-hander Scott Bailes, and from a guy who wasn't supposed to hit lefties, Sheets now has a team-high .314 average against them. In this five-game streak, he has hit almost everyone, going 12 for 19 with six homers and 11 RBI.

He has been remarkably consistent over the long haul, too, driving in 65 runs in his last 69 games. He leads the Orioles in hitting with runners in scoring position -- .333.

"He has just been great," Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "There's no other way to say it."

Sheets, one of the few bright spots in a bad season, said, "I don't know if I've ever swung the bat this well over this long a period. The season hasn't had many down moments for me. Hopefully, it'll continue."

Otherwise, the game was an old story. The Orioles dropped to 51-62, mainly because their problems with starting pitching have continued. Dave Schmidt (10-3), who had missed his last turn because of a sore elbow, gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings, the latest in a line of poor performances from Orioles starters.

He was victimized by a bad-hop single that scored two runs in the fourth inning, but he was also less than sharp. And not alone. In their last 12 games, the Orioles have just two victories by starting pitchers, both by Ken Dixon. Overall, Orioles starters have been the second-worst group in the American League, going 30-42 with a 4.99 ERA. (Only Texas has had a worse starting staff.)

This isn't what they'd hoped for, especially after putting the opening day rotation back together for a last-gasp stretch run. Instead, they've survived because of rookie relievers John Habyan and Mark Williamson. When they can't pitch, the wheels come off.

Which the wheels did tonight. Schmidt walked off trailing, 4-3, in the sixth. Left-hander Jack O'Connor, just recalled from Rochester, allowed Schmidt's final run to score, then gave up one of his own in the eighth.

"Schmidt's arm just got tired," Ripken Sr. said. "He'd missed his last starts, and I was talking about getting five or six innings out of him, which we got. At the end, he was getting the ball up, which was an indication he'd gotten tired. When you miss a turn, it doesn't take long to get out of shape. It was the same with {Mike Boddicker}. He missed 11 days, and he hasn't been sharp. But the pitching hasn't been that bad. The ball took a bad hop for two runs. There's nothing you can do about that."

Meanwhile, the Indians got a six-hitter from Bailes (6-4) and Doug Jones.

Bill Ripken had two hits to raise his average to .319. But a lot of others are slumping. Terry Kennedy struck out three times and is hitless in his last eight at-bats. In his last 44 games, he has batted .222 and hasn't homered in his last 35. It may only be a coincidence that he has started 20 more games than any other catcher in the league.

Then there's the other Ripken, Cal Jr. He's zero for seven this series and 14 for 81 (.173) his last 20 games.

DH Mike Young is also hitless in the series, and .125 in his last 12 games.

"Cal has hit some balls hard that have been caught," Ripken Sr. said. "But Terry and Mike are swinging and missing at too many balls."

Sheets gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the Indians scored two in the fourth. Julio Franco led off with an infield single and went to third on Joe Carter's single to center. Carter stole second and, after Pat Tabler grounded out, Franco and Carter scored on Mel Hall's single.

The Indians made it 4-1 in the fifth, scoring one on Cory Snyder's 26th homer and a second helped by the Orioles' seventh error in four games. Brett Butler singled, stole second and made third on Kennedy's throwing error, and came in as Tommy Hinzo singled to right.

The Orioles got right back in it in their half of the fifth. After a knockdown pitch from Bailes, Sheets led off with another homer to make it 4-2. (Both benches were warned against starting a beanball war.)

"He earned my respect," Bailes said of Sheets. "When you come in with a breaking ball to most lefties, they never get near it. He hit two out."

The Orioles got their last run a few minutes later, after Ken Gerhart reached first on Franco's error. Bill Ripken hit a fly toward left. Hall raced in, stuck his glove up and ducked as the ball disappeared into the lights. Ripken was credited with an RBI double, as Gerhart raced home to cut the lead to 4-3. Ripken stayed at second as Ripken Jr. flied to right and Bailes speared Murray's line drive.

It became 5-3 in the sixth. Hall got a one-out single and Brook Jacoby walked. Ripken Sr. brought in O'Connor, who walked Snyder, loading the bases. Andy Allanson scored Hall with a fly to center.

It went to 6-3 on Hall's RBI double in the eighth. The Orioles, meanwhile, had only one base runner after the fifth as Bailes pitched into the seventh and Jones retired the final seven Orioles in order.

Orioles Notes:

Rochester outfielder Nelson Simmons was traded to Seattle's Class AAA team at Calgary today for a player to be named later. Simmons was up with the Orioles briefly, hitting .265 with a home run and four RBI. At Rochester, he was at .271.