"[He] just elevated some balls, lost his command," manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. "He had pretty good movement, late life. He got out of some potential sticky situations, but I thought he pitched well for five innings. But ... different stuff showed up there in the sixth."
The Orioles took a two-run lead on solo home runs, but Britton ran into trouble in that decisive sixth. He faced five men and retired none, and left with the Orioles trailing, 3-2.
Britton's first trouble came in the first inning, when with two outs, he hit second baseman Jason Kipnis, which extended Kipnis' streak of consecutive games reaching base to 26. Nick Swisher singled behind Kipnis, but Britton dodged trouble when Carlos Santana flied out to center field to end the threat.
Britton calmed down and got through five innings with five strikeouts and two walks before faltering in the sixth.
"He was good," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He had the one inning where they put some at-bats together and really got behind the leadoff hitter, which [meant] he had to throw a strike there [to Kipnis]. Then a leadoff double, and it kind of snowballed a little bit from there."
After Nick Markakis lined a 1-1 fastball to straightaway center field with two outs in the first to give the Orioles a one-run lead, Britton had a quick second inning. Ex-Oriole Mark Reynolds flied out in foul territory to right field, then Britton caught the next two batters looking.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the second inning with two outs, stringing together two walks and a single to give Nate McLouth an opportunity, but he popped out in foul territory.
Baltimore stranded nine runners overall.
"Two runs is probably not going to get it done against an offense like that," Wieters said of the missed chances. "So we'd like to put up some more and be able to add to the lead when [we] get it."
Wieters led off the fourth inning with a home run on an 0-2 changeup. Reminiscent of Markakis' first-inning blast, it was a line drive to center field that left the park, and it put the Orioles up, 2-0.
Kipnis started the Indians' rally in the sixth, doubling to the right-field corner and scoring when Swisher followed with a single up the middle. Then Santana doubled to the gap in left-center, and pitching coach Rick Adair went to have a few words with Britton.
Britton fell behind the next batter, Reynolds, 3-0, before issuing a free pass. Michael Brantley followed with a two-run single up the middle to push Cleveland ahead for good, 3-2.
"Early in the game, I was able to make pitches with guys on base, executing a little bit better," Britton said. "I think I was trying to do too much after that leadoff double, and things kind of escalated right there. … With Brantley, I kind of went away from my best pitch. I probably should have let him beat me on a sinker. I kind of dumped a curveball in, and he hit it back up the box."
Brantley said that familiarity with Britton helped the Indians break through.
"One thing is, guys are facing [Britton] for the third time," Brantley said. "You've kind of seen him a little bit. We're Major League hitters. You've got to make adjustments. And I feel like the team did a great job making adjustments tonight and just kind of getting to him the third time around."
Tommy Hunter replaced Britton and escaped without further damage, retiring the next three batters in order.
Darren O'Day came on to pitch the eighth and gave up a single to Reynolds and two-run homer to Brantley, his third and fourth RBIs of the night. O'Day had given up just two homers in 33 1/3 innings before Saturday, but he's now given up homers in consecutive appearances.
Brantley's four RBIs tied a career high, and the homer chased O'Day from the game.
Brian Matusz finished the eighth inning without allowing another run.
Bryan Shaw pitched the eighth for the Indians, and Vinnie Pestano picked up his fourth save with a scoreless ninth.
The four-game losing streak marks the second time the Orioles have dropped that many consecutive contests -- they lost six in a row from May 14-20 -- but Wieters said the team isn't overly concerned with the four-game skid.
"I don't look back too much, but I think we had a six-game one not too long ago and we were able to get some something going after that, so we'll be ready to go tomorrow," he said.
Ubaldo Jimenez picked up the win for the Indians, who have now won five of their past six games.