BALTIMORE, AUG. 26 -- There were a few unfamiliar sights today for the Baltimore Orioles. They didn't draw a walk and they hit two home runs, one of them by the lately powerless Ron Kittle. And pitcher Jeff Ballard reversed a recent trend of merciless drubbings by working two flawless innings in relief.

Otherwise, the Orioles used the same overworked script they've been playing out for three weeks. Their lethargic 8-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians before 33,716 in Memorial Stadium extended their plummet in the American League East and left Manager Frank Robinson as frustrated as he has appeared in some time.

He had reasons. Starter John Mitchell lasted 1 2/3 innings, putting eight runners on base and creating a quick deficit that only good fortune kept at 2-0. The Orioles rallied to tie, 2-2, on Cal Ripken's home run in the fourth inning, but reliever Joe Price crumbled beneath a four-run onslaught in the fifth and Baltimore never threatened the lead again.

The loss was the Orioles' eighth in 11 games and 13th in 19. They lost for a second straight day to the Indians and have dropped two of three games in six straight series. They are 59-66 and 9 1/2 games behind the victorious Boston Red Sox in the AL East, their largest deficit since July 7.

Baltimore is only 6 1/2 games in front of the last-place New York Yankees -- against whom the Orioles begin a four-game series Monday -- and threatening to fall from third place. The Indians, who improved to 59-67 with their sixth victory in nine meetings with the Orioles, and Detroit Tigers loom a half-game behind.

Cleveland totaled 19 runs and 30 hits in the final two games of the series. All 12 Indians' hits today came in the first six innings en route to an 8-2 lead. Ripken ended a string of 191 Orioles at-bats without a homer, but Baltimore still hasn't had a home run with a man on base in 23 days.

The Orioles' ERA over the last five games is 7.77. They ended a week-long error binge, but left fielder Dave Gallagher's misplay of Alex Cole's line drive leading off the game was a sign of things to come.

And Robinson steamed afterward -- in a quiet, controlled manner, but fuming nonetheless. "We're just not a very good ballclub right now," he said. "We're not doing the three things we have to do to give ourselves a chance to win ballgames -- pitching, hitting and defense. We're not doing any of those things."

He refused to allow Baltimore's recent run of injuries to be used as an excuse. "We may not get the consistent production we normally get with our frontline people, but that's no reason why we shouldn't be playing some decent baseball. That's what these other people are in the major leagues for. People just are not doing the job they should be doing."

Few in the Orioles' clubhouse were willing to disagree. "What else can be said?" catcher Mickey Tettleton said. "We're not doing the job."

Today's failings began with Mitchell, who has yielded 24 hits and 10 earned runs in 14 innings in his last three starts. Four of the first five Indians batters got hits, beginning with Cole -- who sliced a liner to left that Gallagher seemed to be well-positioned to catch. But the ball eluded his backhand stab, and the debacle was underway.

Only Cole getting caught in a rundown after he fell rounding third base on Jerry Browne's bunt single contained the Indians to one run in the first inning. They finished Mitchell and made it 2-0 in the second on Mitch Webster's double and Felix Fermin's one-out single.

"I couldn't get the ball down, and I couldn't throw strikes," Mitchell said. "I know I should be doing better, but I keep going out there and it's the same thing. I'm making bad pitches."

Price came on and escaped a bases-loaded jam without further damage on his way to retiring seven straight hitters. The Orioles drew to 2-1 off Greg Swindell on Tettleton's single, Tim Hulett's double and Mike Devereaux's run-scoring groundout in the second.

They evened the score in the fourth on Ripken's leadoff homer, his 17th of the season and 213th as a shortstop -- tying the AL record at the position held by Vern Stephens, who set the mark with four teams in 1941-55.

But that was about the extent of the Orioles' prosperity. Price (2-3) collapsed in the fifth, yielding a walk and three hits while failing to get an out. Jose Bautista was greeted by Brook Jacoby's two-run single that made it 6-2. An inning later he surrendered Cole's triple and Carlos Baerga's one-out home run, giving the Cleveland shortstop three homers among his six hits in the series.

"This is a good hitter's park," said Baerga, who entered the series with two home runs in 185 at-bats. "I heard they're moving out of this stadium in a few years {1992, when the Orioles open a new ballpark}. Maybe we can move some of our home games here. I'll see what I can do."

Swindell left after seven innings of eight-hit, two-run work. The left-hander continued a recent upswing in which he has won three straight and eight of 10 decisions to improve to 10-7. He escaped two-on predicaments in the fifth and sixth.

"I'm starting to throw free and easy again, like last year," said Swindell, who was 13-6 with a 3.37 ERA in 1989. "These past few weeks are the first time this season I've really felt healthy, and I think it shows."

Jesse Orosco surrendered Kittle's home run in the ninth, the first baseman's initial homer as an Oriole and his first for anyone since July 4. It was his second RBI since Baltimore acquired him in a trade for Phil Bradley four weeks ago; he struck out twice earlier, each time with two runners aboard.