It had been awhile since there was a party brewing in th stands at Camden Yards, but the crowd of 40,807 was ready to start having fun again last night.
And why not? The Orioles put together their second all-around effort in a row, and this time there wasn't a late-inning thunderstorm to cut the celebration short.
Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe gave up two runs in 7 1/3 innings and Orioles rookie Sherman Obando had the night of his life as the Orioles scored a 6-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Sutcliffe carried a shutout into the eighth, but it was the Orioles' surprising Rule V draftee who carried the day with a three-hit performance that included his first major-league home run.
Obando, who also had three hits to support Fernando Valenzuela the night before, got the Orioles on the scoreboard with a two-run single in the first inning and finished off the evening with a home run into the left-field bleachers in the eighth. He reached base seven times in eight plate appearances during the past two games and raised his average to .375.
Sutcliffe also got some help from first baseman David Segui, who doubled in each of his first three at-bats and drove in the other three runs as the Orioles continued to show signs of ending a lengthy offensive slump.
The Orioles have been trying to get by on pitching alone for much of the past two weeks, but they did everything right last night. Sutcliffe pitched well, the offense clicked and the bullpen did the rest. Todd Frohwirth took over in the eighth and Gregg Olson finished up to record his eighth save of the year. But all eyes were on Obando, who has become a most unlikely hero at a difficult point in the season.
For the second night in a row, Obando delivered a big hit in the early innings to take some pressure off the starting pitcher. He came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning and lined a single to center field to stake Sutcliffe to a two-run lead.
The night before, Obando came up in a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the third inning and doubled off the left-field fence to bring home two runs and give Fernando Valenzuela a three-run lead.
"That was a big at-bat he had [Tuesday] night," manager Johnny Oates said before the game. "We got the bases-loaded walk to Cal [Ripken], but that extra two runs picked us up a great deal. I'm sure it picked Fernando up. It's a lot easier to pitch with a three-run lead than a one-run lead."
Valenzuela was on the way to his first shutout in nearly three years. Sutcliffe picked up right where he left off and held the potent Indians attack in check, but Obando's fourth consecutive hit gave him some room to work. He also would play a role in the Orioles' two-run rally in the fourth when he stretched his string of hits to five.
Oates has been choosing Obando's at-bats very carefully. He is intent on building the rookie outfielder's confidence at the plate, and he appears to be succeeding. Obando entered the game with a .341 average. He has hit safely in seven of his past nine games and has the highest RBI-to-at-bat ratio (1:6 at-bats) of any Orioles player with more than 15 plate appearances.
"You try to pick spots and pitchers he matches up well against," Oates said. "He's learning."
The Orioles still are struggling -- make no mistake about that -- but the pitching staff has rebounded from a rocky April to string together a series of solid performances against good offensive clubs. During an 11-game span leading up to last night, the Orioles had a combined 2.63 ERA against the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Indians.
Sutcliffe has struggled at times during the first six weeks of the season, but he has begun to put together a string of consistent performances. He pitched six solid innings to defeat Toronto on May 8 and came back Friday night to give up just two runs over 6 2/3 innings to the Tigers in a game the Orioles lost after he left the mound.
"I thought he threw really well in the Detroit game," Oates said. "I thought he had good velocity. He pitched well. You know with Rick, there are going to be some days he isn't going to overpower people. On those days, when they hit the ball at people, he's all right, and if they don't, he's in trouble. But you know that he'll be resourceful, so I always feel comfortable that he's going to give us a chance to win."
The question over the past few weeks has been the other way around. There have been too many games when the club hasn't given the starter a chance to win, but the Orioles padded the two-run lead with two more runs in the fourth.
Obando led off that inning with his fifth consecutive hit and Chris Hoiles doubled off the right-field fence to put runners at second and third. Segui, who had stretched a second-inning double into an out at third, pulled a sharp ground ball into the right-field corner to score both runs. He would go on to contribute his third double of the game in the sixth and drive in another run.