Home sweep home: Orioles top A's, 7-4 5-for-5 McLemore helps end perfect homestand

/TC When the Orioles turned to their "little ball" offense last nigh at Camden Yards, they discovered the power of Mark McLemore's game.

McLemore stroked a career-high five hits, scored three runs and drove in three more as the Orioles completed their longest undefeated homestand in almost 13 years with a 7-4 win over the Oakland A's.


For the first time in six games the Orioles did not hit a home run. All 15 of their hits against four Oakland pitchers were singles. The tactic suited McLemore just fine as he lined three hits to center field, another to left and laid down a perfect bunt.

The night before McLemore, a second baseman by trade who has taken over as the Orioles' regular right fielder, was given the night off by manager Johnny Oates. He took advantage of the opportunity to refine his infield skills, taking ground balls at second base for about 30 minutes.


"Work habits like that deserved to be rewarded," said Rick Sutcliffe (6-2), who lasted only 5 1/3 innings, but picked up his fourth straight win. "You have to be happy for him [McLemore].

"When [Harold] Baines and [Mike] Devereaux went down, he really seemed to turn it up a notch. Without him playing the way he has, honestly, we'd probably be 15 [games] out [of first place]," Sutcliffe said.

Instead, their recent hot streak has brought the Orioles from the depth of the American League's Eastern Division standings to within 7 1/2 games of first-place Detroit. The victory extended the Orioles' season-high winning streak to seven games, matching Toronto for the longest such streak in the American League this year. They also completed their only homestand in a stretch of 26 games with a 6-0 record, sweeping three-game series against Seattle and Oakland.

Not since Aug. 1-7, 1980, when they had an identical record against Minnesota and Chicago, had the Orioles gone undefeated on a homestand of this length or longer. Their current six-game streak at Camden Yards is the second longest in the new park, being exceeded only by nine they won early last year.

McLemore entered the game hitting .289 after going 11-for-55 (.200) in his past 14 games, a spin that caused his average to plunge 39 points. He recouped almost half the loss (19 points) with his performance last night as his average jumped to .308.

"Shhh," McLemore said, "don't tell me about my average. I don't want to know it."

McLemore capped his evening with a two-out, two-run single off A's relief ace Dennis Eckersley in the eighth to break open a game that had been in doubt throughout. "They were pitching me away all night, and I just kept going with the pitches," McLemore said. "He [Eckersley] probably got that pitch up a little more than he wanted."

Oakland manager Tony La Russa had brought Eckersley, the game's premier closer, into the game after the A's had drawn to 5-4. But singles by Paul Carey, Harold Reynolds and McLemore provided the cushion the Orioles needed.


"I had the wrong guy at the plate, McLemore," Eckersley said. "I think that's what his name is."

By any name, McLemore was the right man in the right place for the Orioles last night. The switch-hitter was involved in every Orioles run.

"The hits were timely," McLemore said, "so that made it all the sweeter."

In addition to establishing a personal high, McLemore also tied an Orioles club record with his five hits.

While the Orioles offense was hardly overpowering, it didn't lack for contributors. Mike Devereaux drove in the first two runs with two singles, and Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken, Harold Baines, Tim Hulett, Harold Reynolds and Carey all had timely hits.

"It doesn't matter if the hits are all singles as long as you get the runs," McLemore said. "We can't have one or two guys carrying the load. Tonight our bullpen was super, and we got it done by the whole team."


But nobody got it done better than McLemore.

Sutcliffe was most grateful.

"When we came home for this homestand, we figured it was a chance that we could gain some momentum," Sutcliffe said. "But I don't think anybody expected that we would sweep these two series.

"We've got a big road trip [Boston, Milwaukee and Cleveland], and we have a chance to continue in the right direction. One of my goals is to get within four or five games of first place by the All-Star break."

Two weeks ago that task sounded like something out of "Mission Impossible."

Now, two games under .500 (28-30) for the first time since April 10 (1-3), the Orioles are a half-game behind the fourth-place Red Sox and feeling they have a realistic chance to reassert themselves by the midseason break.