When Jeff Tackett started the first game of the three-game winning streak the Orioles took into last night's game against the Kansas City Royals, it wasn't by design. But neither is it coincidental that he has now been in the lineup four straight times.
"I've been waiting for the chance to write the same names in the lineup," said Oates, who did some subtle Orioles notebook
juggling while his team lost 13 of its first 18 games.
Asked why Tackett was starting ahead of regular catcher Chris Hoiles, Oates had a simple reply. "Look at the scoreboard," he said, referring to the Orioles' modest winning streak.
Actually, had it not been for a favorable statistical matchup, Tackett would have given Hoiles a rest in the final game of the last road trip, in Chicago on Tuesday night.
"I had made up my mind to catch Jeff in that game," said Oates, "but going over the statistics that afternoon I noticed that Hoiles was 6-for-11 against [Jack] McDowell, so I changed my mind."
When the Orioles lost that night, their fourth loss in five games on the trip, it was easy for Oates to write Tackett's name into the lineup for Wednesday night's game against Minnesota.
"Chris has been struggling with the bat [.220, 18 strikeouts in 59 at-bats] and we didn't get home until four o'clock in the morning -- it seemed like a good time to get Jeff in the lineup," said Oates. "We got a win and Jeff did a good job, so I stayed with him."
Under normal circumstances, Oates won't use the same catcher in a day game after a night game, which is the case for this afternoon's game against the Royals. However, before last night's game, Oates wouldn't say if Hoiles would return to the lineup.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'll wait and see what happens."
Tackett took a four-game hitting streak, matching his career high, into last night's game. He scored three runs and drove in the same number in the first three games of the homestand.
But the offensive numbers aren't that significant for Tackett, who realizes that defense is his major asset. "The hits are a bonus," he said, "but throwing a guy out trying to steal [as he did Friday night], that's what I want to do.
"I'm just trying to help the team, and I think we're getting on track. We're getting some hits and the pitching is coming around."
The O is in the ink
The Orioles may not be superstitious, but . . .
For the last four games, the lineup has been written in green ink. It seems that bench coach Jerry Narron, who makes out the card for every game, used green ink on St. Patrick's Day, when the Orioles had their biggest offensive output of the exhibition season, getting 22 hits and 14 runs against the Detroit Tigers.
"After that game, I figured I better hold on to that pen, we might need it during the season," said Narron. "But I didn't have it with me on the road [when the Orioles lost four out of five]."
When the club returned home to face the Minnesota Twins, Narron brought out his St. Patrick's Day pen -- and the Orioles won two straight while scoring 19 runs. The pen undoubtedly will become part of Narron's traveling stationery.
"He was fined [by the club's Kangaroo Court] for not having it with him," said Oates.
Going into last night's game, the Orioles' bullpen had logged more innings (69) than any other in the American League and had the second-lowest earned run average (2.35) behind the Texas Rangers (2.31).
Right-hander Rusty Meacham, who finished Friday night's 12-5 loss to the Orioles, was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Kansas City Royals yesterday.
Bill Sampen, another right-hander, was recalled from Triple-A Omaha to fill the roster spot vacated by Meacham, who has a strained right elbow. Meacham was 1-1 with a 5.14 earned run average in nine games before sidelined. Sampen was 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in seven games at Omaha.
Last night's crowd of 46,415 was the second largest to watch a game at Camden Yards, 32 shy of the record set at the second game of the season, April 7.
The sellout was the third in a row, eighth in 11 home dates and 75th in the 91 games the Orioles have played at the new park.