The Baltimore Orioles keep coming closer to a victory. They also keep coming closer to the American League record for consecutive losses.

The winless Orioles actually led the world champion Minnesota Twins 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday night. But, as usual, they trailed after nine.The 4-2 setback extended the Orioles' imperfect start to 0-19. They have long since surpassed the major-league record for a start-of-the-season losing streak and can tie the overall AL mark of 20 straight by losing tonight in Minnesota. The major-league mark is 23.

"We've been in a lot of games like this with an opportunity right at the end," designated hitter Larry Sheets said.

And what an opportunity it was. Minnesota relief ace Jeff Reardon walked the first two batters in the ninth but pinch hitter Joe Orsulak's line drive was caught by shortstop Greg Gagne, who started a rally-killing double play. Fred Lynn, who homered off winner Frank Viola to start the game, then fouled out to end it.

"We can't stand here and think, `What if we'd done this or done that,"' Manager Frank Robinson said. "It was nice to get out to that early lead, but I knew we'd need more runs to win."

The Twins _ and Kent Hrbek, in particular _ were the latest beneficiaries as the Orioles continued to spread more good cheer than Santa Claus. Hrbek, who hit 34 home runs last season, hit his first of 1988 to tie the score in the sixth inning _ a two-run shot that spoiled Mike Morgan's shutout bid _ and two outs later Randy Bush. Hrbek added a solo homer off Dave Schmidt in the eighth.

"You can't feel sorry for anybody," Hrbek said. "It's like a boxer going into the ring. You can't go in there and let him hit you a couple of times. You know they're going to break out of it sooner or later."

Frank Viola, undefeated at the Metrodome since last May 22, pitched three-hit ball for seven innings and didn't allow a hit after Cal Ripken's RBI double in the third.

Viola struck out nine and is on a streak of his own, having won 13 in a row at home. But the World Series MVP said the Orioles' losing streak "is overrated. We're 6-11. That isn't much better.

"I think the seventh game of the World Series was more important than playing Baltimore at 0-18. I don't care if Baltimore's 0-18 or 0-150. They always play us tough."

At least one Oriole is still talking tough.

"Tomorrow's another day," Sheets said. "You still look at it like this _ there's 143 left and we can still lose 43 more and win 100 games."