The Orioles' two-week road trip, which concluded Wednesday night, was half-empty or half-full, depending on how you choose to look at it.
If you say half-empty, you can revisit the numerous missed opportunities, the generally poor play. Remember that blown four-run lead in California on Monday night, with Mike Mussina on the mound? Remember how the Orioles couldn't beat Seattle without Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner in the lineup? Remember how bad Arthur Rhodes was? How about the back-to-back games of record-setting performances, the 14 walks allowed on May 25, or the 17 strikeouts by the hitters the next night?
If you choose half-full, there is this: Five wins on a 12-game road swing through New York and the West Coast isn't that bad. There was the tremendous comeback against the Yankees' John Wetteland, with Brady Anderson hitting the three-run homer. They ended the road trip with two wins, including Wednesday's 5-3 victory over California. Ben McDonald pitched his best game of the year. Jeffrey Hammonds looks better every day.
Half-empty: The Orioles are in last place in the AL East, and have just 13 wins in 31 games.
Half-full: The Orioles are only one game out of second place.
Plus, they showed signs of life, some emotional spark, in those last two victories.
In a tie game Tuesday, they had the potential winning run on third with nobody out but couldn't score the runner, then came back in the 10th inning to win. Cal Ripken drove in the lead run with a sacrifice fly and then made a super defensive play in the bottom of the inning.
The Orioles took an early 4-0 lead Wednesday night, with homers by Hammonds and Harold Baines, and McDonald was superb, giving up six hits and no walks and striking out nine in eight innings.
The Orioles suppressed California rallies in the eighth and ninth innings, third baseman Jeff Manto making a diving stop on a ground ball to his left and throwing to first from his knees.
They could've lost both games, and that would've been a major blow. But they won both, and flew home feeling -- if not confident -- a little better about themselves.
"It could've been disastrous," McDonald said, "and it turned out all right."
McDonald is thinking half-full. So is Orioles manager Phil Regan.
"I feel it -- this week this team got closer and had a little bit more life on the bench," he said. "We won a series for the first time in I don't know how long [May 16-18 vs. Detroit] . . . and against a pretty good team.
"I'm not happy with a 5-7 record [on the road trip], but with all the things that happened to us, we came out of it fairly well."
It would be a simple diagnosis to say that the Orioles played better after pitcher Mike Mussina spoke out Monday night and said the team was going through the motions. But only about half the team knew of Mussina's criticisms, which were published on the East Coast.
Nevertheless, Regan says "it might've helped. I think we needed someone to step up and say something. I know the last three days, we've had more life."
There are other reasons (half-full). Catcher Chris Hoiles and second baseman Bret Barberie have started to hit, and Hammonds' improvement has been rapid since returning from the minors. Kevin Bass and Jesse Orosco have played well. Rhodes appears to be in a good frame of mind as he tries to pitch his way back to the majors.
There are other concerns (half-empty). Center fielder Andy Van Slyke has reinjured his left forearm, and could be sidelined for some time. Armando Benitez pitched poorly and seemed to lose his confidence, and the Orioles need to be able to depend on the right-handed reliever in the seventh and eighth innings. Sid Fernandez still hasn't pitched into the sixth inning in 1995.
Half-full? Or half-empty?
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Athletics' Steve Ontiveros (5-1, 3.05) vs. Orioles' Kevin Brown (4-2, 3.50)
& Tickets: 10,400 remain