MINNEAPOLIS -- The baseball fans of Minnesota missed Fernandomania the first time around, but they now have an idea of what all the commotion was about in Los Angeles back in 1981.
This is what it was like in that first, magical season when a youthful Valenzuela burst into the international spotlight with a string of amazing performances. It has taken a little longer to develop, but the sequel has been just as amazing in its own way.
Valenzuela flirted with a major-league-leading third shutout until there were two outs in the eighth inning and went on to record his fourth straight victory. He is 4-0 with an 0.65 ERA and two shutouts in his past five starts. He has given up just three runs -- all to the Twins -- in his last 41 2/3 innings.
"I can almost visualize what he was like 10 years ago," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "I can't imagine him doing much better than he is now. You can't be much better than that."
But all this talk about 1981 makes Valenzuela a little uncomfortable. He didn't come here to summon the ghosts of seasons past. He came back to prove he could still pitch, and he has done much more than that.
"I don't want to look back," he said. "I want to look at this season. It's nice to go back to 1981 -- it feels almost the same -- but that
is the past."
Remember, this is the guy who was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels in 1991. The guy who spent last year pitching in the Mexican League. The guy who looked like another one of Roland Hemond's one-in-a-million crapshoots. Now look at him.
He has the second-best ERA (3.34) in the Orioles starting rotation and leads the team with four complete games. Opposing hitters are batting just .226 against him, which ties him for fourth in the league in that department -- right alongside Roger Clemens. Who would have believed it?
The Orioles helped out with a 13-hit performance that included three hits from Mike Devereaux and two RBI from rookie Jack Voigt, but the night belonged to Valenzuela, whose 0.83 ERA in July is the best in the league. He seems to gain more confidence and control with each solid appearance.
"Not only is he showing [confidence], the club is feeling it, too," Oates said. "I'm getting very comfortable with him on the mound."
Valenzuela was making his first regular-season appearance at the Metrodome [he pitched an inning here in the 1985 All-Star Game], but he apparently wasn't intimidated by the cozy dimensions and quirky characteristics that can turn it into a pitcher's nightmare. He picked up right where he left off in a strong nine-inning performance against the Twins on Sunday at Camden Yards.
He gave up two hits over the final seven innings of that 7-2 victory, then carried a shutout into the eighth last night to run up a string of 14 consecutive scoreless innings against the Twins. In both games, he matched up against rookie left-hander Eddie Guardado, who said after Sunday's loss that Valenzuela had been his boyhood idol.
No doubt, the thrill of pitching against Valenzuela had worn thin by the middle innings last night. The veteran left-hander finally is getting consistent support from his offense, and the combination helped pull the fourth-place Orioles within a half-game of first place in the American League East.
Guardado retired the side in order in the first, but he struggled to keep the game from getting out of hand after that. The Orioles put 11 runners on base over the next four innings and settled for only three runs.
Voigt started a two-run rally in the third with a hit in only his second at-bat of July. He singled to left and Brady Anderson followed with a double before Mark McLemore gave the Orioles the lead with an RBI ground out. Devereaux grounded a single through the middle for the second run of the inning.
Guardado worked out of a bases-loaded situation in the fourth, but got right back into trouble in the fifth. He gave up a one-out single to Devereaux and a two-out RBI double to Chris Hoiles that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead. He also gave up a two-out single to Jeffrey Hammonds, but rookie left fielder David McCarty gunned down Hoiles at the plate.
The Orioles finally knocked Guardado out of the game with three straight no-out hits in the sixth.
AL EAST RACE
Team .. ..W .. .L ..Pct. . GB
Boston .. 53 .. 43 .552 --
New York .54 .. 44 .551 --
Toronto ..54 .. 44 .551 --
Orioles ..53 .. 44 .546 .. 1/2
Detroit ..50 .. 47 .515 ..3 1/2
Yesterday's results Orioles 5, Minnesota 1
New York 5, California 2
Kansas City 7, Detroit 6
Boston 6, Oakland 5 (10)
Texas 6, Toronto 5
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 3 p.m.
Orioles starter: Jamie Moyer (6-4, 3.42)
Twins starter: Scott Erickson (6-10, 5.52)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)