ARLINGTON, Texas -- Make no mistake about it, the key run for the Orioles here last night was the one Mark McLemore "stole" in the seventh inning.
It was only the second run in what turned out to be a four-run inning -- and an eventual 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers. But pay no heed to what the box score might indicate about this one.
When McLemore scored from second base on a fly ball to deep centerfield by Mike Devereaux, the game changed. While the Rangers, reacting slowly, futilely tried to make a play at the plate, Brady Anderson went from first to third on the play.
Instead of having runners on second and third with two outs and a place to put Cal Ripken in a 1-0 game, the Rangers trailed by two. Rather than pitch around him, ex-Oriole Jeff Robinson decided to challenge Ripken and the score was immediately doubled as the shortstop blasted his fourth home run of the year.
Two innings later, Devereaux hit his seventh homer off Kenny Rogers, making it look like the Orioles won a game of long ball. Such wasn't the case, because it was McLemore's run that changed everything.
"The second run makes a big difference," Orioles manager John Oates said. "Especially against their lineup. They've got a lot of guys who can turn things around with one swing."
It was a home run by Leo Gomez, his third (all in games started by Ben McDonald), that opened the scoring off Bobby Witt (3-4) with one out in the seventh. McLemore followed with a single to right and Anderson walked, bringing Robinson into the game.
When Devereaux hit his fly ball to Juan Gonzalez, it was deep enough to advance both runners, but otherwise a routine play at the warning track. McLemore, however, had other ideas.
"I always think two bases when I'm running," said McLemore, who has started the last two games at second base since Bill Ripken was hit in the head with a pitch Saturday night. "This just happened to be a situation where the ball was hit deep enough to score. The coach kept waving me in, and I just kept going."
But there was more to it than that, according to third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr., whose decision it was to let McLemore run. "He [McLemore] made the play," said Ripken. "He came to third base the way you're supposed to come after tagging up.
"He was coming hard all the way and it was easy to send him," said Ripken. "In this park, you can communicate verbally with the runner because the crowd noise is not that loud down on the field.
"When the shortstop [Dickie Thon] had to backhand a low throw, I just told him to keep going."
"Lunch is definitely on me," said Devereaux, who picked up an RBI and was spared an at-bat when McLemore turned the play into a sacrifice fly.
"It was a real aggressive play," said Texas manager Bobby Valentine. "We didn't get the ball in quick enough and I don't know if he [Gonzalez] stumbled or not. He's a young outfielder, and it's a lesson to be learned."
If anybody enjoyed the play more than Devereaux, it was Davey Lopes, who was added to the Orioles coaching staff expressly to work with baserunners.
"It's just an example of how little things can help you win games," said Lopes, who also doubles as the first-base coach.
"Not that baserunning is a little thing -- it can help you win games. That was just an example of capitalizing on mistakes. That's what good baserunning will do, and it's paying off."
Until the seventh inning last night, the Orioles had been unable to make anything work against Witt, but Ben McDonald (5-0) kept them in the game with another powerful performance.
Texas second baseman Jeff Huson turned a rocket by Cal Ripken into an acrobatic double play, complete with a behind-the-back toss to Thon, with the bases loaded in the third inning. An inning later, Kevin Reimer went into the leftfield wall to take an extra-base hit away from Glenn Davis. The Orioles had runners in every inning except the first, but couldn't break through until Gomez, McLemore and Ripken gave McDonald four runs in the seventh.
"I didn't feel like I had the 'pop' on my fastball that I did the last time out," said McDonald. "But this time I had real good location."
Oates politely disagreed with his big righthander. "I thought his fastball was outstanding," said the manager. "This is a real good fastball-hitting team -- and they couldn't catch up with it.
"A lot of times you'll see teams get some good swings, and either just miss the pitch, or foul it off. But that wasn't happening tonight. They couldn't catch up with him."
The win was the fifth in a row for McDonald, making him the only pitcher in club history to start 5-0 in two different seasons. He also did it in 1990, when he won his first five starts.
After the Orioles' long seventh-inning rally, McDonald was unable to survive another inning. The Rangers had only two tainted hits through six innings before bunching three singles to score their only run and get rid of McDonald in the seventh.
After providing a few heart palpitations by giving up a long drive down the leftfield line that went foul, Mike Flanagan struck out pinch-hitter Monty Fariss to end the inning. Todd Frohwirth then pitched the last two innings for his second save.
The victory enabled the Orioles (21-11) to remain one game behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.