And now it's only half-game

The Orioles moved within one-half game of first place last night for the first time since May 11 by completing a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, 5-4, in front of 47,697 at Camden Yards.

May 11.


Way back then, Cal Ripken had two home runs. For back-troubled third baseman Chris Sabo, the outfield was a place to hit baseballs, not chase them, and Dwight Smith played for the California Angels.

Mark Eichhorn was just another middle reliver with a brutally ugly earned run average and Barry Bonds still was considered the best player in baseball.


It was so long ago, sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays was considered a big deal.

So much has changed since then, yet here the Orioles stand, nearly two months later, right back where they stood on May 11, one-half game out of first in the American League East.

The Orioles, who were six games out of first as recently as June 1, have gained three games in three days on the first-place Yankees.

Their success started at the top again last night.

Leadoff hitter Brady Anderson's three-run home run in the Orioles' four-run fourth held up as the game winner.

"Brady's an awfully important part of our ballclub," Oates said. "A lot of times, it seems when Brady goes well we go well."

Anderson has been hot lately and so have the Orioles. In his past 10 games, Anderson has gone 17-for-43 with 11 runs, four home runs and 10 RBIs.

With Anderson playing a big part, the Orioles have won 10 of their past 13 games.


Although Anderson was hitting .145 with runners in scoring position going into his fourth-inning at-bat, it wasn't when the home run came that was newsworthy so much as where it landed.

"I shouldn't even swing at that pitch," Anderson said of the high fastball he hit for an opposite-field home run. "I usually pop that pitch up or foul it off. I got a pretty good feeling from seeing that one go out."

Said Orioles manager Johnny Oates: "He hit a three-run homer. I don't care where it went. Junior's last two home runs have been to the opposite field. He does everything Junior does. Maybe he's trying to copy that, too."

Rafael Palmeiro pulled his bases-empty home run an inning earlier. The power hitting backed a quality start from winning pitcher Mike Oquist (3-2), who allowed five hits and three runs in six-plus innings to earn his first win as a starter. Oquist walked one and had a career-high seven strikeouts.

Set up by Alan Mills, who allowed one baserunner in two innings, Lee Smith survived a shaky ninth to earn his 29th save in 32 chances.

Smith took the mound at the start of the ninth with a 5-3 lead. A Tino Martinez leadoff double and a Mike Blowers single later, the lead was reduced to a run and pinch hitter Jay Buhner stood at the plate representing the go-ahead run.


Smith struck him out, then retired Brian Turang on a dangerous-looking fly ball to right-center that defensive replacement Jack Voigt ran down. For the final out, second baseman Mark McLemore fielded Felix Fermin's grounder up the middle and stepped on second for the force.

That left Ken Griffey standing on the on-deck circle, where he was for most RBI situations during a series in which he went 1-for-11 and extended his homerless streak to 11 games.

"Every time he walks up to the plate, as far as I'm concerned, he's in an RBI situation," Oates said. "Any time you get him out as many times as we did you have to get pretty lucky."

Griffey came to the plate with runners on the corners in the third and drove in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly to right, a victory for Oquist.

"I was just moving the ball around," Oquist said of his approach against Griffey. "I threw a couple real good pitches that were down, almost in the dirt. You just try the best you can to have nobody on. That first and third, that was really kind of a tough situation and he hit it well."

While Griffey's homerless streak reached 11 games and Frank Thomas creeped one home run behind him in the Roger Maris chase, the Orioles continued to play long ball. They have hit 16 home runs in the past six games, five of them victories.


The power generated by Palmeiro and Anderson off losing pitcher Roger Salkeld made Oquist's effort stand up.

Oquist departed after a 39-minute rain delay that was preceded by strong winds blowing in. Oquist had allowed back-to-back doubles to Tino Martinez and Mike Blowers at the start of the Mariners' two-run seventh when the grounds crew headed for the tarp before Oates could head for the mound to take the ball from Oquist.

Oquist was making the start in place of Mike Mussina, who was pushed back until tomorrow to give the sore muscles in his shoulder blade area extra rest.

"He's fine," Oates said of Mussina. "He could have started today, but he was only going to get one start before the All-Star break anyway, so why not give him the extra rest?"

The move paid off in another way. Now, instead of having Oquist oppose baseball's hottest starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics right-hander Bobby Witt, Mussina will.

The Mariners were an ideal team for Oquist to face. Next to their own gloves, their failure to hit right-handers of all varieties has been their biggest downfall.


The Mariners dropped to 17-39 in games started by right-handed pitchers.

Oquist was coming off a six-run pounding administered by the Cleveland Indians, who knocked him out of his last start in the fifth inning.

His rebound effort last night continued a bad-good pattern that has held true for his past six starts.

Oquist fell behind 1-0 in the third inning when Felix Fermin scored on Griffey's sacrifice fly snared by backpedaling right fielder Sabo. The play summed up Sabo's outfield play. Not stylish, not by any means textbook, but he caught it, which is all that counts. Fermin had reached on a leadoff single to center and taken third on Keith Mitchell's single to right.




Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Athletics' Todd Van Poppel (4-6, 6.70) vs. Orioles' Ben McDonald (10-6, 4.60)

Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, not including bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.