The California Angels could be forgiven if their thoughts were somewhere else last night. They are still shaking off the effects of the bus accident that left manager Buck Rodgers and 11 other members of their traveling party injured early Thursday morning, so their 5-3 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards probably wasn't hard to keep in its proper place.
"The toughest part of the situation is putting everything in perspective," said interim manager John Wathan, who learned yesterday that he may have to manage the club for as long as three months while Rodgers recovers from his injuries. "You're thankful for being alive, but you have to go out and play the game."
They did that, but they were no match for right-hander Ben McDonald, who held them to five hits over seven innings en route to his sixth victory. He struck out seven and left with a four-run lead, but required a scoreless ninth from stopper Gregg Olson -- who earned his ninth save -- to assure that the Orioles' longest losing streak of the year would end at four games.
The victory looked as if it might be a costly one. First baseman Randy Milligan suffered a bruised shoulder making a diving tag on Luis Polonia in the eighth and reliever Mike Flanagan took a line drive off his right shin moments later. Milligan left in obvious pain, but said he would be able to play tonight. Flanagan also suffered a bruise, but did not immediately leave the game.
The Orioles probably could not have pulled out of their longest slump of the year without outfielder Chito Martinez, who broke out of a lengthy slump himself with two hits and two RBI. He singled home a run in the second and brought home an other with a sacrifice fly before making it his first multiple-hit game of the year with an eighth-inning double.
Milligan also made a big contribution, driving home a run with a sixth-inning double and becoming the first player to hit a ball off the "Tall Wall" in right field. But the victory belonged to McDonald, who rebounded from a bad day in Chicago to improve his record to 6-1.
There was room to wonder just how focused the Angels could be under such difficult circumstances, and their quiet offensive performance in the early innings left the question open.
"We started off slow," Wathan said, "but under the circumstances -- what happened in the last 48 hours -- it's understandable. With all that has happened, I think the guys went out there with pretty good focus."
McDonald apparently did, too. He was coming off his first loss of the season, a rocky five-inning performance against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday that featured home runs by Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. He gave up seven earned runs in all, so he was anxious to throw himself in front of the four-game losing streak that began that day.
"I think every game is important, and I go out and try just as hard in every game," McDonald said, "but I wanted to end it because I started it."
The Angels were struggling to begin with. They entered the game with five losses in the first six games on this East Coast road trip, which included earlier stops in Boston and New York.
McDonald went right to work at trying to make sure they didn't bounce back at his expense. He took a no-hit bid into the fourth inning and carried a shutout bid into the fifth before the Angels took advantage of a two-out walk and singles by Gary DiSarcina and Luis Polonia to break through for a run.
He looked overpowering, but he said that his appearance was deceiving. The only pitch he was throwing really well was his fastball.
"I was basically a one-pitch pitcher tonight," McDonald said. "It's harder to win without your good stuff, but you go out and compete with the best you have and try to hold them down the best you can."
Manager Johnny Oates wasn't impressed with what McDonald took to the mound, but he was very impressed with what he brought back.
"He pitched seven-plus innings with one pitch," Oates said. "He didn't have the good curveball or changeup. He got by on talent and a little luck to stay out there that long."
The Orioles were not having quite as much trouble getting a bead on Angels rookie Julio Valera, but they didn't have much more success in the early innings.
Valera walked Milligan to lead off the bottom of the second and gave up back-to-back singles to Chris Hoiles and Martinez for the game's first run. The Orioles figured to get some more, but a poorly executed sacrifice bunt attempt by third baseman Leo Gomez took the life out of a promising rally.
Gomez bunted the ball right back to Valera, who got the force on Hoiles at third. Mark McLemore and Brady Anderson went down meekly and the Orioles settled for one run.
Martinez, making a rare start in right field, didn't have to do much to improve on his .125 batting average, but he was in position to make some points with a big offensive performance. He has been the odd man out in the outfield, but Oates said yesterday that there is playing time to be won with an improved performance at the plate.
Joe Orsulak has been the most regular right fielder, but he is batting just .216 with nine RBI in 97 at-bats. Martinez came into the game tied with Jeff Tackett for the lowest batting average on the club, but he has maintained a respectable on-base percentage.
"I'm just waiting for one of them to get hot and play well," Oates said before the game.
Oates had said earlier this month that Martinez was "in limbo," a man without a role on a team with too much going right to make any significant changes. That hasn't changed, but he will be in the lineup more frequently if he continues to swing the bat the way he did last night.
His run-scoring single started it all, and he narrowly missed home runs in each of his next two at-bats. He hit a rocket over the raised bleachers down the right-field line in the fourth inning, the ball foul by a few feet. Then he came up with the bases loaded in the sixth and hit a 400-foot shot to straightaway center that took Junior Felix to the fence.
The second shot brought home the second run of the three-run sixth inning that would carry the Orioles to victory. Milligan's shot off the wall broke the 1-1 tie and signaled the end for Valera, who gave up four runs on five hits and three walks. He stayed around to load the bases with an intentional walk to Hoiles, then gave way to left-handed reliever Scott Bailes, who surrendered the long sacrifice fly to Martinez and a run-scoring single to Gomez.
Mike Devereaux added to the lead with his eighth home run in the seventh inning. He continues to swing the bat with authority out of the second spot in the order, where he is hitting .375 with five home runs and 15 RBI in just 48 at-bats.