It is not a perfect world, but the Orioles could not complain too loudly about the way they closed out the first half of the 1993 season -- even after the Chicago White Sox scored an 11-5 victory yesterday at Camden Yards.
Nobody holds down Frank Thomas forever, certainly not an Orioles team that was one of the first to find out why his nickname is "Big Hurt." He hit two home runs and matched a career high with five RBI to help teammate Jack McDowell become the first 13-game winner in the American League.
Thomas has enjoyed Orioles pitching from the day he arrived in the major leagues. He has 14 home runs against them in little more than 2 1/2 major-league seasons, enough to rank him 16th among active American League players. But the Orioles appeared to have him figured out . . . for a while.
The Orioles and White Sox played eight games in a span of 11 days, and Thomas went 1-for-22 in the first seven. He was hitless in nine at-bats in the first three games of the four-game set at Camden Yards, but made up for lost time in the finale.
He hit a three-run home run off starter Jamie Moyer in the first inning and added a two-run shot off reliever Todd Frohwirth in the seventh.
"The guys were getting all over me," Thomas said. "I was 0-for-Baltimore since making the All-Star team, so I wanted to go up there and hit the ball hard today."
He wasn't the only one. Bo Jackson drove in three runs with a single and a sacrifice fly and Ozzie Guillen hit his third home run of the season as the first-place White Sox overcame a 13-hit performance by the Orioles to salvage a split of the four-game series.
McDowell had to like the timing. He wasn't particularly impressive yesterday, but his 7 1/3 -inning, 10-hit performance was good enough to improve his record to 13-6.
Nevertheless, the Orioles closed out the first half with four victories in their last six games and remained within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. They are far better off than anyone could have expected only a month or so ago, a fact that was not lost on manager Johnny Oates.
"You want to go into the break with a win, but from where we came from, it has been a pretty good run," he said. "We need to take three days off, get our batteries recharged and come back and have a good second half."
They have no reason to expect anything else, not after narrowing divisional deficit that stood at 10 1/2 games in the final days of May. The Orioles have overcome a series of setbacks to re-establish themselves as a serious contender, so they headed for their various homes with much to look forward to.
"We're right where we want to be," said center fielder Mike Devereaux. "We're sitting sweet."
Moyer probably wasn't in the mood to celebrate, but he is one of the reasons that the team was able to rebound from one of the worst starts in club history. He had been one of the most consistent pitchers in the rotation since arriving from Rochester to take the place of injured Arthur Rhodes. He came into yesterday's game with a string of 17 scoreless innings, but couldn't get anything past the first three hitters in the White Sox batting order.
Steve Sax led off with a single to center and Craig Grebeck dropped a perfect bunt single down the third-base line to bring Thomas to the plate. The next pitch disappeared into the left-field bleachers to give the White Sox a three-run lead.
"He was down 3-0 after four pitches," Oates said. "After that, he pitched a lot like earlier in the season. He was getting a lot of guys on base, but he was making big pitches to get out of trouble."
Cal Ripken got Moyer back into the game with a two-run home run in the fourth inning -- his 12th of the year -- but the White Sox stretched it out again on a bases-loaded single by Bo Jackson in the fifth.
That was the game's pivotal matchup. Moyer had delivered a pair of two-out walks to load the bases. Jackson had struck out in his first at-bat and hit into an inning-ending double play his next time up. Moyer had given up eight hits in his first four innings, but Oates gave him the opportunity to work out of one more jam.
"I liked the matchup," Oates said. "Jamie had pitched him well his first two times up, and he had handled him well in Chicago."
Moyer (5-4) had earned the chance to stay in the game. He had won five straight decisions and had not given up a run in his two previous starts. He had shut out the White Sox for eight innings on the way to a 1-0 victory over McDowell 10 days earlier.
If he had gotten by Jackson, who knows how things would have turned out? Instead, he left the game trailing by three runs and the bullpen could not hold things together.
Left-hander Jim Poole pitched a solid 1 1/3 innings, but Frohwirth gave up five runs on five hits, including the second home run by Thomas and the two-run shot by Guillen. The game had turned into a blowout by the time the Orioles rallied for three in the eighth on a bases-empty homer by Harold Baines and a couple of run-scoring hits by Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson.
McDowell left the game after Hoiles' RBI double and left the impression that he won't be looking to sign with the Orioles when he becomes eligible for free agency after next season. He doesn't like pitching at Camden Yards.
"It's short, small and -- especially when it's hot -- the ball flies out of here," he said. "You can't change anything. I'm usually a fly-ball pitcher. It would not be best for me to pitch here day in and day out."
AL EAST STANDINGS
Team ....... W-L .... Pct. .... GB
Toronto ... 49-40 ... .551 .... -
Detroit ... 48-40 ... .545 .... 1/2
New York .. 48-41 ... .539 .... 1
Baltimore.. 47-41 ... .534 .... 1 1/2
Boston .... 45-42 ... .517 .... 3
Cleveland.. 40-48 ... .455 .... 8 1/2
Milwaukee.. 37-49 ... .430 ... 10 1/2