BALTIMORE, AUG. 16 -- Paul Molitor's hitting streak extended a little closer to baseball's twilight zone this afternoon, so much so that for the first time he talked about things like tension and distraction and overswinging.
No matter. On a muggy afternoon, he extended it to 31 games with a third-inning double as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 6-2.
He did it on a day when the Brewers methodically rolled past the Orioles again, getting a six-hitter from three pitchers and three RBI apiece from Ernest Riles and Glenn Braggs.
The victory ends the Brewers' best season ever against the Orioles, 11 victories in 13 games, and it also drops the Orioles to 53-65 (17 games out of first).
As if all of that weren't enough, only 25,950 showed up at Memorial Stadium for a day that included a pregame exhibition between a group of players from the 1970 Orioles and one from the 1979 Orioles. Today's small crowd leaves the Orioles' home attendance down 71,484 from last season, and that was down 159,000 from 1985.
Molitor is the 11th player in American League history to hit in at least 31 straight games, and he has managed to put himself among elite company. Minnesota's Ken Landreaux had a 31-game streak in 1980, but, to find a better AL streak, you have to go back to Boston's Dom DiMaggio, who hit in 34 in a row in 1949. Molitor's streak is 17th-best in major league history.
"There's a lot of tension associated with it right now," he said. "But when it's over, it'll be gone. It'll all end one day, and that'll be it. It's something of a distraction right now, and I think I've been overanxious at the plate. But I'm not looking forward to it ending."
Since he established a team record by hitting in 25 straight games, he said, "there hasn't been any added significance, whether it's 30 or 31 or 32. It's a matter of going out each day with a chance to continue something I'll never do again. I do think about it, but when I go up there I want to just see the ball and hit it, same as always."
He sliced one of Dave Schmidt's fastballs inside the right field foul line in the third to extend the streak, then singled in the fifth. He's batting .411 during the 31 games, and if he doesn't get hurt should have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship.
The streak has raised his average to .362, which gives him a chance to beat Boston's Wade Boggs (.371).
He didn't figure in either of Milwaukee's rallies today, not that it mattered. Schmidt (10-4) lost despite holding the Brewers to two runs through seven innings. In fact, when he left the mound in the eighth, he had a 2-2 tie, the Brewers' runs having come on Riles' third homer. But Schmidt left runners on second and third, and reliever Mark Williamson allowed both to score.
One came in when Braggs bounced a hit into the hole between short and third, and another on Riles' single to center.
"I threw Braggs a fastball down and in, and he pounded it into the ground," Williamson said. "That's where I wanted it, but I don't have any control over where he hits it. The pitch to Riles was just a bad one. I tried to get a fastball inside, and it just came back across the plate. It was one of those days."
It became even more so in the ninth when he gave Robin Yount and Greg Brock two-out walks, then allowed Braggs a two-run double off the center field wall.
That was plenty. The Brewers got 5 1/3 impressive innings from starter Len Barker, who has missed almost two full seasons because of elbow and knee surgery. The Atlanta Braves released him in 1986, and the Brewers, desperate for pitching, signed him.
At the moment, he looks like one of the bargain-basement finds of the season. His fastball was clocked at 90 mph several times, and he said: "I feel I can still pitch. My arm finally feels sound, and that's the whole key."
Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. saluted him: "He moved the ball around real well. He kept us off stride, throwing one pitch 83-84 mph, another 86-87, then popping one 90. You've got to give him credit."
The Brewers took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on Riles' third homer. The Orioles got an RBI single from Jim Dwyer in the fifth to make it 2-1. They were presented the tying run in the sixth when reliever Chuck Crim walked Terry Kennedy with the bases loaded.
But they also left the bases loaded that inning when Crim got Mike Young on a roller to first base. One thing about the Orioles: They don't do things the easy way, having now gone two for 21 with the bases loaded since July 24.
Crim disposed of the Orioles in order in the seventh, and Dan Plesac (22nd save) retired six in a row to end the game.
General Manager Hank Peters said no trade is imminent, but it's no secret several teams have been watching left-hander Mike Flanagan. Scouts from the Cardinals, Angels and Mets saw his complete-game victory over the Brewers Saturday night, and the hottest rumor has him going to the Cardinals.
Flanagan could veto any deal because he's a 10-5 man (10 years major league service, five with one team). He said today he's undecided what he'd do, but said: "I've always prided myself on spending my career with one team . . . . There's also a pattern that when a guy changes teams once, he does it several more times." . . .
Rochester third baseman Craig Worthington pulled a hamstring Friday and will miss the rest of the season.