Lee Smith arrived shortly before game time last night, delayed by personal matters.
He was right where the Orioles have come to expect him to be in the ninth inning, walking ever so slowly off the mound, yet another save in his back pocket.
Chad Curtis popped Smith's last pitch to center, stranding the tying run at second, the go-ahead run at first as the Orioles survived another close one, 4-3, over the California Angels in the opener of an eight-game homestand.
At this pace, Smith will save 94 in '94. Could his arm possibly survive such a pace? "That's a long way in from the bullpen," said Smith, 36. "My legs are going to blow out way before my arm will."
Unofficially the slowest pitcher in Orioles history going from the bullpen to the mound, Smith officially is the quickest in big-league history to reach seven saves.
He did so in the Orioles' 12th game. Bruce Sutter earned his seventh save in the 14th game of the season for the 1980 Chicago Cubs. A rookie by the name of Lee Smith was Sutter's setup man in September of that year.
Don Aase, who earned his seventh save in the 1986 Orioles' 27th game, had been the quickest in Orioles history.
"I've got all sorts of records," Smith said. "But when I go out next spring people still will be saying Smitty's washed up."
In earning his all-time high 408th career save, Smith maintained a 0.00 ERA.
The fifth pitcher to take the mound for the Orioles, Smith saved a game won by left-hander Jamie Moyer (1-1, 4.91), who pitched two outs into the eighth for his first win.
California starter Phil Leftwich didn't last nearly as long, leaving three hitters into the fifth. The Orioles turned nine hits, six for extra bases, into four runs against Leftwich. They appeared on their way to an easy win for a change, but Smith would be needed after all.
Like the skies that threatened to bust open but only dropped a few brief showers, the Orioles never quite cut loose offensively.
Jeffrey Hammonds' third home run, to right field leading off the fifth against Leftwich, gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead, but the Angels' normally shaky bullpen held it there.
Hammonds, quietly off to a big start from the ninth spot in the batting order, is batting .302 with a .651 slugging percentage, second to Harold Baines.
"I'm going to bottle that," Hammonds said of eight of his first 13 hits going for extra bases. "You can't beat that."
Lefty Bob Patterson relieved Leftwich with runners on the corners and nobody out in the fifth. He retired the Orioles' two most feared hitters, Rafael Palmeiro on a popup to second and Baines on a double-play grounder. Bill Sampen shut down the Orioles the rest of the way.
Moyer and the bullpen made it stand up, barely.
In maintaining their first-place standing in the AL East, the Orioles (8-4) improved to 6-2 in games decided by two runs or less.
After Moyer allowed his second home run of the night -- to Tim Salmon with two outs in the eighth -- his efficient night was over.
Enter left-hander Brad Pennington, who allowed a single to Chili Davis, the only batter he faced. Bo Jackson greeted Mark Eichhorn with a single.
Eichhorn retired Eduardo Perez on a fly to center to get out of the eighth and encountered the same result against pinch hitter Harold Reynolds leading off the ninth.
When Angels manager Buck Rodgers sent Dwight Smith in to hit for Rex Hudler, Orioles manager Johnny Oates countered by bringing left-hander Jim Poole out of the bullpen to replace Eichhorn. Coming into this season, the former Cubs outfielder had a .290 lifetime batting average against right-handed pitching, a .228 mark against lefties.
Smith sent a searing line drive whistling past Poole's ear and into center for a single. Exit Poole, enter Lee Smith.
Oates would have preferred to give Smith the night off. "They are all going to have to contribute," Oates said of the bullpen. "Both left-handers need to start to help."
Pennington did not allow a hit in his first three outings and has not retired a batter in his last two. Poole has allowed seven hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Moyer, a 12-game winner last season, became the first Orioles vTC starter other than co-aces Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald to win a game. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits. As usual, the ground ball was Moyer's best friend, the home run pitch his most harmful foe. Fourteen of Moyer's 23 outs came on the ground. Two of the three runs came on bases-empty home runs.
In three starts covering 22 innings, Moyer has three walks, 15 strikeouts, and six home runs.
He set down the Angels in order in the first three innings. Fourteen of his 23 outs came on grounders. "I've got it going in the right direction," Moyer said.
So does Smith, who doesn't mind the heavy work load. "It's kind of like a hitter who's on a hot streak," he said. "You want to be out there."
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Mark Leiter (1-0, 2.77) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (3-0, 1.74)
Tickets: About 3,000 remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.
Date ... Opp. ... IP ... H ... BB ... SO ... NP
4/4 .... K.C. ... 0.1 .. 0 .... 0 .... 0 .... 2
4/6 .... K.C. ... 1.0 .. 0 .... 0 .... 1 ... 13
4/9 .... Tex. ... 1.0 .. 0 .... 0 .... 1 ... 10
4/14 ... Det. ... 1.0 .. 0 .... 0 .... 1 ... 18
4/16 ... Tex. ... 1.0 .. 1 .... 0 .... 1 ... 30
4/17 ... Tex. ... 1.0 .. 2 .... 0 .... 1 ... 15
4/19 ... Cal. ... 0.2 .. 1 .... 0 .... 1 ... 10
Totals ...... ... 6.0 .. 4 .... 0 .... 6 ... 98