MILWAUKEE, AUG. 31 -- The Baltimore Orioles began the lost-cause portion of their season tonight. And they responded in form -- with a sloppy, lethargic and wasteful 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that had Manager Frank Robinson fuming as his 55th birthday drew to a close.
In an appropriate conclusion to a month of demise, the Orioles crafted a debacle this evening that saw them squander a bases-loaded opportunity in the third inning and take themselves out of the game on pitcher John Mitchell's careless throwing error that sparked a three-run Brewers fourth.
There was a seventh-inning play on which no one covered first base while Jim Gantner beat out a bunt single, and there was a still-sputtering offense that collected eight hits but just a single run off Ron Robinson.
The playing-out-the-string condition may have set in earlier during this 9-18 August that saw the Orioles fall from four games behind in the American League East to 13 1/2 games in back of the front-running Boston Red Sox.
But those blahs became oppressively apparent on this night at County Stadium, where only 16,735 could pull themselves away from the Green Bay Packers' preseason football game on television to watch this hardly riveting battle for fourth place between teams headed in opposite directions.
By the seventh-inning stretch, the Packers game was on even in the box of Brewers owner Bud Selig. By the time Greg Brock's solo home run gave Milwaukee its three-run cushion, the Orioles looked equally disinterested in baseball.
Robinson didn't care much for that approach, and he let his club know it with a postgame tongue-lashing. "I just said what I had to say and got my point across," Robinson said. "I hope they react.
"I'm not dissatisfied with the effort. I'm dissatisfied with the execution. I'm dissatisfied with the thinking of players, or lack of it. . . . We're making too many mistakes; mistakes you shouldn't make in spring training. It comes from a lack of concentration, and concentration is part of thinking."
Mitchell was sharper than he has been of late, but still struggled to a 5 1/3-inning, nine-hit, four-run performance while Baltimore's offense was held in check neatly by Robinson, who didn't issue a walk in improving to 10-5 with the complete-game effort.
Dave Parker had three hits for Milwaukee, while Steve Finley and Sam Horn provided two apiece for the Orioles. The Orioles limped here having lost seven consecutive series, and have dropped 12 of 16 games to fall from contention, while Milwaukee -- with its hopes of capturing even baseball's most forgiving division having been dashed long ago -- won for the 12th time in 16 contests.
The Orioles wasted their opportunity to forge an early working margin. They did craft a 1-0 lead in the second inning on singles by Horn, Craig Worthington and Bob Melvin -- who produced the 35th two-out RBI (among 63 total) of his two-year Baltimore career.
But the Orioles squandered a chance to add to the lead an inning later when Robinson wriggled free from a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Brady Anderson and Finley began the inning with singles, and Horn sent a line drive one out later that Brewers center fielder Robin Yount could snag only on the short hop.
But then Mickey Tettleton struck out on a check swing, the catcher's 137th whiff of the season -- and the manifestation of an Orioles' failing Robinson had decried earlier in the day.
Robinson spent a portion of his afternoon bemoaning his players' inability to make contact in crucial situations. The Orioles lead the major leagues in runners left on base, and Robinson believes part of the problem is a faulty hitting philosophy.
"We strike out too much in the wrong situations," he said. "Some of our guys take a bigger swing with two strikes than they do before they have two strikes. . . . You'd like to make the other team handle the ball in situations like that, and we don't do that enough."
Joe Orsulak followed Tettleton's strikeout with an inning-ending flyout, and the Orioles started to succumb soon thereafter. Mitchell unraveled during Milwaukee's fourth-inning outburst, allowing three singles and fueling the uprising with a hideous error on B.J. Surhoff's sacrifice bunt attempt.
Yount and Parker -- who's batting .417 over his past 12 games -- began the inning with solid base hits, and Surhoff laid down a respectable bunt that should have advanced the runners but left plenty of time for Mitchell to collect himself and make a sure toss to first base.
Instead, he hesitantly lobbed the ball well above the grasp of leaping second baseman Bill Ripken, who had come over to cover the bag. Yount scored to tie the game at 1 while Parker scurried to third and Surhoff to second.
Sacrifice flys by Brock and Greg Vaughn delivered both runners for a 3-1 Milwaukee advantage. Mitchell survived fifth-inning singles by Parker and Surhoff without further damage, but Brock punished a high fastball Mitchell left over the plate in the sixth for his sixth home run of the season and a 4-1 cushion.
"They left the door open, and we stepped in," Brock said. "That's what happens when you're going good and the other team isn't."