Orioles' march continues with a truly stirring victory

Who sent the tornado, George Steinbrenner?

Just when the Orioles were about to pull within a half-game of the New York Yankees, Camden Yards nearly got picked up and dropped in Kansas.


Blame it on the Yankees' blowhard owner.

The Orioles get within striking distance of first place, and suddenly the apocalypse is upon us.


Yo, George, save it for the strike:

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night, can keep the Orioles from gaining ground.

Remember how they went 5-2 in Toronto and Cleveland and lost a half-game in the standings? Now the Yankees have lost six of seven, and the Orioles have gained three games in three days.

That is, if the world is still standing.

The game-time temperature was 97 degrees.

Just over two hours later, it was 81.

Where was Storm Davis when you needed him?

"In the dugout, you didn't even notice it," manager Johnny Oates said. "Sometimes, you feel immune to any bad weather."


Right now, the Orioles are immune to everything.

This one ended like so many others this season, with Lee Smith earning his 29th save despite allowing a run for only the second time since June 1.

Orioles 5, Seattle 4.

The wind-thrill factor made it all the more, uh, stirring.

The Orioles led, 5-2, in the top of the seventh when plate umpire Joe Brinkman summoned the grounds crew and ran for cover.

Orioles left fielder Dwight Smith said, "in Wrigley, there's wind like that every day." But another former Cub, Lee Smith, said he hadn't seen anything like it in, oh, 15 years.


"Not since I was in Double-A in Midland, Texas," Smith said. "You could see this coming from way back, and get a head start on your ducking. It sort of reminded me of San Francisco, with all the hot-dog wrappers."

Incredibly, the delay lasted only 39 minutes.

Downtown, at least, the storm was a lot of hot air.

But for a while, it looked pretty scary. The wind arrived with Cal Ripken batting in the fifth. A fly to right by Keith Mitchell nearly decapitated Chris Sabo an inning later.

Ken Griffey was next.

"If this was wind was turned around in the other direction, I believe he would hit one over the warehouse," HTS announcer Mike Flanagan said.


Indeed, it was the first time in Camden Yards history that there was a better chance of the warehouse hitting a batter than a batter hitting the warehouse.

The city spent the entire day praying for a breeze, and got a XTC twister.

Today, we pray for another starting pitcher, and get Roger Clemens.

Actually, the Orioles are so hot, they gave staff ace Mike Mussina two extra days' rest, and won last night with his substitute, Mike Oquist.

Oquist pitched into the seventh inning, allowing only five hits and finishing with a career-high seven strikeouts for his first victory in nearly a month.

Don't look now, but Jamie Moyer has made three straight quality starts, and the rookie Oquist is two for his past three.


The Orioles still want to trade for another starting pitcher, but what's the hurry? Suddenly, they can do no wrong.

Ken Griffey went 1-for-10 in this series.

Enough said.

Meanwhile, the Orioles just keep hitting -- in particular, Brady Anderson, who is in one of those stretches where he looks like one of the top five leadoff men in the game.

Anderson entered last night's game batting .145 with men in scoring position, but his three-run homer off Roger Salkeld in the fourth inning gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead.

It's about time the talk-show callers leave this guy alone. In his last 10 games, Anderson has seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs -- including four of his 11 home runs.


Of course, it's not just Anderson. Cal Ripken is on a pace for 24 homers and 124 RBIs, Rafael Palmeiro for 30 and 99, Chris Hoiles for 32 and 79.

Even better, the emergence of Leo Gomez and trade for Dwight Smith has given Oates so much depth, he's suddenly comfortable sitting Jeffrey Hammonds two straight days.

Oates finally has a bench, and he's using it deftly. Sabo and Gomez, Smith and Mike Devereaux -- they're all going to play. Why, there might even be hope for Jeff Tackett.

Smith ripped an RBI triple last night, and has four hits his last two games. Jack Voigt replaced Sabo in right in the late innings, and made two nice catches.

It's all coming together -- the pitching, the hitting, the bench.

First place tonight?


The answer is blowing in the wind.