BALTIMORE, JUNE 26 -- The Baltimore Orioles once more flirted with victory before once more settling for defeat, the latest one a 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians tonight in front of 35,093 at Memorial Stadium.
It was the Orioles' fifth straight loss and 11th in 13 games, and dropped them to 31-40 and a bit deeper into sixth place in the American League's East Division -- a season-high 10 1/2 games out of first.
A season after the magical victory has come the magical defeat. The Orioles have lost an incredible 24 one- or two-run games. Their last nine losses have been decided by a total of 13 runs.
Almost every night, something that isn't supposed to break down does.
This night, shortstop Cal Ripken cost them a run in the first inning when his errorless streak ended at 67 games -- five shy of Ed Brinkman's AL record.
This night, Pete Harnisch (7-4), who allowed four home runs in 84 2/3 innings, was tagged twice in 8 1/3, by Brook Jacoby in the second and by Cory Snyder in the seventh.
This night, a game the Orioles had come back to tie in the bottom of the eighth was lost in the top of the ninth when Cleveland rookie Sandy Alomar Jr. fought off an inside fastball and dumped an RBI single over the head of second baseman Bill Ripken.
That hit came off left-handed reliever Joe Price, who then proceeded to ice the matter by walking two Indians, including Jerry Browne with the bases loaded.
On a normal night, Price wouldn't have been in the game, at least not to face Snyder -- a right-handed slugger whose lifetime batting average is 37 points higher against left-handed pitching.
But Price was forced to pitch because Mark Williamson, who is Manager Frank Robinson's right-handed middle man, has a severe case of the flu and was unavailable.
So another game that was winnable turned into a loss, and a lot of people weren't happy about it.
"Price just lost his concetration after Alomar got the hit," Robinson snapped. "That's just not something a big league pitcher ought to do. We can dwell on that and the men we left on base, but it all adds up."
All of this came on a night when the Orioles again blew some scoring chances. They left five men on base in the first four innings and went two for nine with runners in scoring position.
That helped Indians starter Greg Swindell escape, and on a night when he was eminently beatable, he went 6 2/3 innings and would have gotten the victory if reliever Doug Jones (4-2) hadn't allowed Joe Orsulak's RBI single in the eighth.
Harnisch came back out for the ninth and promptly got Chris James on an infield pop. But he walked Ken Phelps and Jacoby and it was obvious he was tiring.
When he started Snyder off with a fastball out of the strike zone, Robinson walked to the mound and waved in Price, who got Snyder on an infield pop, then threw two quick strikes to Alomar.
The third one was on the fists and up in the strike zone, and Alomar fought it off and dumped it into shallow right.
Pinch-runner Stanley Jefferson scored and Jacoby went to third. Price then walked Felix Fermin and Browne before getting Mitch Webster on a fly to left.
The beginning had been no better for the Orioles. Eli Jacobs celebrated his one-year anniversary as team owner by having Commissioner Fay Vincent and the club's board of directors in for the game.
They'd hardly settled into their seats when they saw something the Orioles thought they might never see again -- an error by Cal Ripken.
It came on the oddest of plays and it came after Ripken had cleanly handled his last 296 chances. Browne led off the bottom of the first with a single, and after Harnisch struck out Webster, Dion James dumped a single into shallow center.
Center fielder Mike Devereaux bobbled the ball and was charged with an error. He picked the ball up and threw to Ripken, who let the throw bounce off his glove for his second error of the season and his first since April 13.
It was his first at Memorial Stadium since Sept. 24 and only his third in his last 125 games. Browne scored on the play for a 1-0 lead.
"I'm not going to say I didn't deserve it, but there are too many discrepancies in scoring," Ripken said. "Sometimes you don't see things on the field the same way the official scorer sees them. I thought the ball was off line and up. I made a lunging effort. I guess I got an 'E' for effort."