As it developed, the game the Orioles lost Saturday night might have been responsible for the one they won yesterday.
The torrid bat of Harold Baines delivered the single that produced the deciding run in the 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. But it was the relief pitching of left-hander Jim Poole and right-hander Todd Frohwirth that put the Orioles in position to win for the fourth time in their past five games.
And the role played by Poole was significant, because it was a decision made about 17 hours earlier that made him available to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings. On Saturday, manager Johnny Oates used rookie Brad Pennington rather than Poole in the ninth inning of the 5-4 loss to the Royals.
His reasoning was proven sound yesterday afternoon.
"Poole is my long man," Oates said, "and with the left-handed lineup I knew the Royals would use against [Rick] Sutcliffe, I knew there was a chance I would need him.
"Pennington's role is as a short man -- that's the way he's going to pitch. And if a left-hander is going to face a right-hander [as was the case with the switch-hitting Brian McRae], I'd rather it be Pennington."
As it turned out, Pennington gave up an important hit to McRae, but a day later the move paid off. Poole rescued a staggering Sutcliffe to start the fifth inning yesterday, with the Orioles trailing, 3-0.
"My job was to hold them down and give our club a chance to win," said Poole. Seven of the 14 hitters he faced were left-handed, giving him a decided advantage.
When Kansas City manager Hal McRae made adjustments in his lineup, Frohwirth (1-1) had to deal with only one left-handed hitter among the five he faced in the last 1 2/3 innings.
As the game turned, the Orioles needed perfect relief -- and a timely error by Royals right fielder Felix Jose -- to stay in the game. David Cone, winless after six starts, shut them down on one hit, a second-inning double by Baines, until he lost control in the fifth, when Chris Hoiles started a three-run rally with a double to left-center field.
Singles by Tim Hulett and Brady Anderson and sacrifice flies by David Segui and Mark McLemore enabled the Orioles to tie the score. Jose made his error on Anderson's hit, which allowed the second run to score and moved the tying run to third base.
"The key to the inning was the walk to [Harold] Reynolds," said Cone, who issued the pass after Segui's sacrifice fly. "He tried to bunt with two strikes and took a close pitch. I didn't retain my aggressiveness when I got the lead."
The most aggressive Sutcliffe got during his four innings (eight hits) came on a couple of trick pickoff moves. The first created a whirl of controversy.
With runners on first and third and two outs in the second inning, Sutcliffe faked a throw to third, and trapped Curtis Wilkerson between first and second. In the ensuing rundown, first baseman Segui threw home to try to get Phil Hiatt. A replay made it appear that Hoiles tagged Hiatt with an empty glove while holding the ball in his right hand.
However, plate umpire John Shulock called a balk even before Sutcliffe threw the ball, and signaled that Hiatt scored and Wilkerson was awarded second base. That brought an immediate protest from the Orioles and, after conferring with crew chief Don Denkinger at third base, Shulock reversed himself. Hiatt was ruled out to end the inning, though Shulock never made a call on the play.
Shulock admitted that he made a mistake, calling Sutcliffe for failing to come to a stop before delivering a pitch, when in fact he was throwing to a base.
"I thought he [Shulock] killed the play [by calling a balk]. We had another run and a man on second," said Hal McRae. "He said he made a mistake."
An inning later, Brian McRae led off with a double, but was victimized by Sutcliffe's spin move to second base while he was trying to steal. That enabled Sutcliffe to survive a threatening situation, but the veteran right-hander gave up three hits and two runs in the fourth and then departed.
"I couldn't keep the ball down," said Sutcliffe, who has been erratic in his six starts. "I've got something I know I have to work on mechanically."
After the Orioles tied the game, Poole and Frohwirth shackled the Royals on three hits the rest of the way. Poole has pitched 7 2/3 innings without allowing a run -- 6 1/3 in two appearances against the Royals.
Frohwirth, meanwhile, has been nearly unhitable. In 15 2/3 innings, he has allowed four hits and whittled his ERA to 1.15.
After their three-run outburst in the fifth, the Orioles' only threat before Baines hit his game-winner in the ninth came in the seventh, when relievers Tom Gordon and Dennis Rasmussen issued three walks. But Jack Voigt, who replaced the injured Mike Devereaux in the second inning, flied out to end the inning.
The last inning turned into a chess match, with Hal McRae having to choose between pitching to Cal Ripken or Baines. A single by Reynolds and two infield grounders left Anderson on second base with two outs and Ripken at the plate.
"We had the opportunity to go left-left with Rasmussen and Baines, or right-right with [Bill] Sampen and Ripken," said McRae. "We wanted to match up. We worked around Ripken, but Baines got the job done."
In the same situation two innings before, Rasmussen walked Baines semi-intentionally on four pitches to get to Voigt. The same pattern in the ninth would have forced Oates to pinch hit for Voigt, but it didn't get to that point.
Baines reached out and lined a single down the left-field line on a pitch that appeared to be out of the strike zone. "It was a slider away," said Rasmussen.
Not far enough away, as it turned out.
"The way I look at it, if you get a hit, it's always a strike," said Baines. "When you make an out, it's a ball. It was in my zone."
That is true of just about everything Baines swings at these days.