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Orioles catch a wave, turning mediocre tide


Just last week, manager Johnny Oates was proclaiming that the Orioles were "teetering on the brink of mediocrity" after the club dropped three of four at home to Texas after losing two of three to the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park.

But, hey, slap together winning series in New York and Boston, and add last night's 6-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards to the mix, and all of a sudden the Orioles look more magnificent than mediocre.

"Maybe this is that hot streak I've been waiting on to get 20 games over [.500]," said Oates. "Maybe we can get a surge going."

Maybe indeed, since for the first time in almost two months, the Orioles appear to be returning to the form that got them surging early in the season.

Specifically, they are getting quality pitching, timely and powerful hitting and good defense.

Last night, all of those were on display, as Arthur Rhodes won his fourth game without a loss, Glenn Davis slammed a game-winning two-run homer, and Mike Devereaux made a key catch in the seventh to preserve the win.

As a result, the Orioles are 14 games over .500, and 3 1/2 games out of first, after Toronto was pummeled, 7-1, last night by Boston.

Sure, they were there two weeks ago after winning four of their first five out of the chute from the All-Star break, only to lose five of their next six.

But things are different now, the Orioles say, and last night was the best example of how things have changed.

Start with Rhodes, who continued his startling transformation from last season's disappointment to this year's late-season revelation.

"I was real scared last year when I got called up. I was just a young dude," said Rhodes, 22. "I've grown up some and I have corrected myself in some ways."

The 22-year-old left-hander navigated his way through the homer-happy Tigers lineup with alternate heat and effective off-speed pitches, giving up three runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"He's obviously more around the strike zone," said catcher Mark Parent, who caught most of Rhodes' games at Triple-A Rochester. "He's just throwing really well. He's turned his game up since he came up here to reflect the level of opposition he's facing.

"That's a difficult thing for a young pitcher to learn because you have to be able to relax to do that. Art was really relaxed out there."

Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder, who had clubbed four homers in his previous three games, was equally impressed even after collecting two singles in four trips off Rhodes.

"He threw the ball pretty good. He threw strikes and changed speeds well and he also had good location," said Fielder. "He was able to pitch with a lead, which enabled him to do what he wanted to do."

That Rhodes had a lead to work with was due largely to Davis, who continued the hottest streak of his career with a double and a home run to boost his batting average to .413 over his last 22 games.

Davis is starting to feel so good about himself and his contribution that he is getting itchy to get back to playing in the field at first base, a spot he hasn't occupied since Opening Day.

"That's up to John [Oates]," said Davis. "I'm hitting pretty well in the DH spot right now. You don't want to disrupt the team. I'm not the type of player to do that."

Still, Davis, who has started to use some of the bats that he had with the Houston Astros, has become the anchor of the lineup of late.

During the early part of his 16-game hitting streak, he was getting singles and a few extra-base hits, but, of late, Davis has started to discover his power stroke, connecting for home runs last night and Saturday in Boston.

"I've started doing things the way Glenn Davis can do them," said Davis. "I don't like to live in the past, but I've reverted to some of the old things Glenn Davis used to do."

"Glenn's been incredible," said second baseman Bill Ripken. "He's been swinging the bat and it's a hot bat."

Last night, Bill Ripken swung a hot bat himself, driving in three runs, walking and getting a single each time with the bases loaded, to move his batting average to .314 in his last 20 games, and to .455 (5-for-11) in August.

Last night's single most important contribution may have come from Devereaux, who was 0-for-5 in the box score, but 1-for-1 in important catches.

Rhodes, who ran out of gas in the seventh, left reliever Pat Clements with runners on first and second with one out and two runs already across in the inning.

Clements got Gary Pettis to ground to second, but the Orioles could not turn the double play. Tony Phillips then walked to load the bases, and on came Storm Davis, who yielded a shot to the right-center field gap to Dan Gladden.

Devereaux was able to run the ball down, saving three runs and preserving Rhodes' win.

"That wasn't a tough catch for him," said Oates. "For me, I couldn't get to that ball, but with his speed, that's a routine catch."

A routine catch for a team no longer on the brink of mediocrity.

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