Two men on, two men out, bottom of the ninth, score tied. It is a situation Harold Baines has faced countless times during his 14-year major-league career, a situation with which he has had more than his share of success.
It was the situation Baines faced yesterday at Camden Yards, with the Orioles and Kansas City Royals tied at 3, with Brady Anderson at second and Cal Ripken at first after an intentional walk from relief pitcher Dennis Rasmussen.
"That's the position I like to be in," Baines said later, after his first-pitch single to left scored Anderson to give the Orioles a 4-3 victory. "Obviously it's going to go his way or my way, and it came out my way today."
While the baseball percentages played by Royals manager Hal McRae were sound -- the left-handed-throwing Rasmussen against the left-handed-hitting Baines -- it doesn't seem to matter who the 34-year-old DH is facing these days.
The hit against Rasmussen, which McRae described as a "cue-ball shot" to left field, was the eighth straight for Baines, two short of Ken Singleton's team record, and four short of the major-league league record shared by Pinky Higgins of the Red Sox (1938) and Walt Dropo of the Tigers (1952). Baines has reached base 12 straight times, one short of Jim Dwyer's team record, and four short of Ted Williams' major-league record (1957).
Asked if he thought the pitch was a bit outside, Baines said, "I've been labeled a first-ball hitter. When you get a ball you can hit, you go for it."
The other label Baines has carried with him for most of his career is that of a notoriously slow starter, a hitter who seems to see his batting average go up with the temperature. It is why Baines was unconcerned when he began this season 7-for-32, despite a 4-for-9 start.
Though some thought it was because of persistent knee problems that have plagued him for several years, Baines said it was because of another reason: simply, it was April. "If you look it up, that's the way the past 14 years have been," said Baines, a career .286 hitter coming into this year despite hitting 35 points lower in April.
The recent stretch, which included a pair of doubles and a pair of walks yesterday, has helped raise his average to .355 (22 of 62) and increase his hitting streak to nine straight games.
It certainly has showed why the Orioles acquired Baines from the Oakland A's in January for two minor-league pitchers.
"He's swinging the bat real well and that's what we brought him over here for," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates.
Baines isn't getting too carried away with his streak. Then again, Baines has never gotten too excited about anything during his career with the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, A's and now the Orioles. It's just another day at the park.
Have bat will travel.
"What I did yesterday doesn't matter, every at-bat is different, every pitcher is different," said Baines, who has been the team's DH for 19 of its 23 games. "Yes, I had found confidence. But that's because I'm seeing the ball better. I'm not taking as many pitches as I was at the beginning of the season."
Baines can't remember if he has ever had a run at the plate like this one, dating back to his days in St. Michael's on the Eastern Shore. During the nine games, Baines has 15 hits in 30 at-bats with five walks and six RBI.
"I'm not a stat man, so you're going to have to look it up," he said. "I'm too old to remember."
But not too old to be dangerous, with two men on and two men out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. And not too old to help the Orioles back into the hunt in the American League East.
"I'm not doing anything different than I was three weeks ago," said Baines. "Right now the balls are falling in."