By now, the Baltimore Orioles' pattern of loss is familiar. Starting pitching that is just good enough to keep the Orioles in the game, just bad enough to keep the opposition in it. An offense that is just good enough to tease, just bad enough to fall short. And relief pitching that is just plain bad. Only the names and circumstances change from day to day.
Tonight, co-closer Arthur Rhodes gave up a run in the bottom of the 10th inning to send the Orioles to a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 21,421 at SkyDome. The winning run came on a two-out single by Shannon Stewart on a 1-2 slider, which Stewart ripped down the third-base line past the outstretched glove of diving Cal Ripken, scoring Tony Batista, who had reached on a leadoff walk, from third.
It was the Orioles' sixth straight loss, a streak that makes the 11-1 run that preceded it seem increasingly distant. They are a season-high 14 1/2 games out of first place. The loss also dropped the Orioles to 4-18 against teams in their division, with nine straight intradivision games still to come.
"Right now," said Orioles Manager Ray Miller, "I just feel sick."
The ending overshadowed several positives, including four hits (two doubles) from rookie Jerry Hairston, a 452-foot home run by Albert Belle and a comeback from an early 5-0 deficit.
The Orioles completed the comeback in the ninth inning, on a two-out RBI double by Jeff Conine off Blue Jays rookie closer Billy Koch, scoring Brady Anderson from third.
Belle's third-inning homer -- a mammoth blast off Blue Jays starter Pat Hentgen that clanged off the top of the glass-enclosed restaurant in center field -- was another sign that Belle may be reaching his usual scorching midsummer form.
It was Belle's 16th homer of the season and his sixth in his last 12 games. And as the last day of June dawns, it may be a precursor of what is to come. July is Belle's month. He has more career homers and RBI in July than in any other month. A year ago, he hit .406 with 16 homers in July.
Belle's homer followed a two-run homer by all-star candidate B.J. Surhoff, his 17th. The back-to-back homers pulled the Orioles to 5-4.
A combined 10 more feet on four Orioles drives could have given the Orioles a blowout victory. But Ripken, Anderson, Harold Baines and Will Clark all hit drives that were caught at the wall. The last of them, Clark's, came with two on and two out in the seventh.
The Orioles were behind because starting pitcher Juan Guzman gave up five runs in the first inning, four of them unearned, following an error by Clark. Guzman rarely has overcome such mistakes this season. A three-run homer by Batista put the Orioles in a 5-0 hole.
"It was just an error," Miller said. "But you have to pick up an error every once in a while. Errors are part of the game. . . . I know Juan is ready when he goes out there, but he gets behind of everybody, gives up a walk, a couple of hits, gets an error, and the guy hits a three-run homer. And we spend the rest of the game trying to come back."
Hairston, who is filling in at second while Delino DeShields is on the disabled list, began the process of pulling the Orioles back into the game, leading off the third with a double to the gap in right that launched a four-run inning.
"We need to turn it around," said Hairston, a 23-year-old rookie. "And we definitely have the team to do it."
The Blue Jays turned over the game over to Koch in the eighth inning, and Koch appeared to be unhittable, striking out the side in the eighth on fastballs near 100 mph that none of the Orioles came close to getting around on.
But Anderson drew a walk to lead off the ninth, starting the series of events -- which included a stolen base, an error on Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado and a pair of infield pop-ups by Surhoff and Baines -- that led to Conine's two-out hit.
The Orioles had a chance to take the lead in the 10th, when Hairston led off with a double. He was sacrificed to third by Charles Johnson, but was stranded there when Anderson struck out and Bordick grounded out sharply to second.
"We bunted, we stole, we did all the fundamental things right," Miller said. "We just didn't get a timely hit."
CAPTION: Orioles first baseman Will Clark makes error in five-run first inning, leading to four unearned runs.