MINNEAPOLIS, JULY 1 -- There were several ways to view the Baltimore Orioles' game tonight against the Minnesota Twins, but all of them came back to the final outcome: a 4-3 loss on Brian Harper's single off Gregg Olson with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Cal Ripken made a diving, run-saving stop of Gary Gaetti's hard grounder with none out in the ninth to preserve a tie and provide a fitting finish to his record-breaking 73rd consecutive game without an error.
But Harper was the next batter.
The Orioles completed their comeback from a 3-1 deficit by scoring a run in the eighth. But they ended the inning with the bases loaded.
The Orioles left the Metrodome with two victories in three games, an improvement considering that when this series began they had lost 16 of their previous 19 games here.
But they go to Texas thinking about what might have been as well as what is.
And the realities are not pretty. Olson (4-3) took the loss after the four teams ahead of Baltimore in the AL East won. He has three losses in his last five appearances and the Orioles are 10 1/2 games behind first-place Boston, seven behind second-place Toronto.
"It was a big game for us to win," said Ripken, who surpassed the American League overall and major league single-season records for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop, set in 1972 by Detroit's Ed Brinkman. "To come in here against a tough Twins ballclub and win two of three is an accomplishment. Before the series, we would have been happy with two of three. But after having opportunities to win the third . . .
With the loss, the streak "doesn't seem as good. We could have had the game and we didn't get it. But I'm proud of it. I've always been considered an offensive shortstop and no one has really focused on the job I do defensively.
Olson, in his first appearance since Wednesday, walked Kirby Puckett on five pitches to begin the ninth. It was the second walk he had allowed since entering at the start of the eighth.
He got ahead of Kent Hrbek, 1-2, but Hrbek lined a single to right-center that moved Puckett to second. Gaetti followed with a hard grounder up the middle. Ripken was fully extended on the artificial turf when he grabbed the ball and made a toss to second baseman Tim Hulett for the force.
But Harper, after hitting a chopper down the third base line that went foul, lined a curveball up the middle for a single that brought home Puckett from third.
"I was brutal. . . . I don't know what to think," said Olson, who struck out the three batters he faced in his last appearance -- the one after Boston's Dwight Evans ended his homerless streak at 115 innings. "I was showing signs of breaking out of it, but I don't walk people like I did tonight."
In his last eight appearances, Olson has pitched a total of eight innings and allowed five runs on 11 hits and five walks. He has one save, but two blown save opportunities and the three losses.
He, Manager Frank Robinson and pitching coach Al Jackson had been in agreement that his curveball has not been great, so batters are sitting on his fastball. The solution, they said, was a better variety of pitches -- even when he wasn't throwing the curveball for strikes.
Wednesday, things went perfectly. Tonight . . .
"He didn't have his good curveball and he didn't have that real pop on his fastball," Robinson said. "He just didn't have it tonight."
But Twins stopper Rick Aguilera did. He did not allow a hit in two innings and he struck out five.
A home run by Steve Finley gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the fifth against Roy Smith, but Hrbek hit a three-run homer off Pete Harnisch in the bottom of the inning.
Ripken's homer made it 3-2 in the sixth. That's the way it stayed until the eighth, when Twins reliever Juan Berenguer needed just six pitches to let Baltimore tie the score.
Joe Orsulak sent his first pitch off the right field fence for a double. He came home two pitches later, when Ripken singled to right for his third hit of the game. Berenguer fell behind Craig Worthington, 2-0, and Worthington also singled to right, Ripken advancing to third.
The managerial wheels began to turn. Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly signaled for right-hander Aguilera, who had allowed only two of 16 inherited runners to score, and Robinson had Donell Nixon run for Worthington.
Nixon stole second, but he did it while Bob Melvin tipped strike three into catcher Harper's mitt.
With first base open, Robinson had left-handed batting Greg Walker pinch hit for Mike Devereaux. Kelly had Aguilera pitch to Walker, who was one for his previous 20. Kelly's move paid off. Walker struck out.
Up stepped the left-handed batting Finley. Kelly ordered an intentional walk so Aguilera could get to the right-handed Tim Hulett. This strategy also worked. Hulett struck out, making the Orioles 16 for 88 (.182) with the bases loaded.
"The game was right there for us," Robinson said. "Those are the situations you have to take advantage of to be a winning ballclub."
Olson escaped trouble in the eighth, but he gave signs of things to come. With two out, Greg Gagne singled and Al Newman walked. With Gene Larkin at the plate, Olson bounced a curveball for a wild pitch that allowed Gagne to reach third. Larkin then took a called third strike.