Jeff Manto said as far as he knows, the third-base job is not his until somebody tells him otherwise. Well, hope Orioles manager Phil Regan doesn't mind the breach in protocol, but after Manto hit two more homers last night in a 10-4 victory over the California Angels, it can be said:
Third base at Camden Yards is the property of Jeff Manto. Somebody please fill out a deed.
He's been doing the Manto mash: He has hit eight homers since May 17, and the Orioles, who hit five last night, have 14 in their past four games.
"I tell you what, the ball jumps off his bat," Regan said. "You watch him in batting practice. All of his hits, even when he pops the ball up, it has a good ring to it."
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro also hit two last night, and has 11. His second homer, in the sixth inning, hit the top of one of the white spires behind the flag court, just above a sign that reads WATCH OUT FOR BATTED BALLS. The day after Kevin Bass became first Oriole to hit a homer onto Eutaw Street, Palmeiro missed repeating the feat by only a foot or so.
Chris Hoiles hit a two-run homer, his first homer since May 26. The Orioles rank second in the AL in homers, with 55. The Cleveland Indians have 67.
The Orioles came from behind to win the 1995 debut of Scott Klingenbeck, who filled in for the injured Sid Fernandez and gave up two homersand four runs to the Angels in the first inning.
But the Angels, too, started a pitcher just called up from the minors, Russ Springer, who had been sent down by California in May with a 11.70 ERA.
With one out in the second, Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines singled. Hoiles flied out, bringing Manto to the plate.
Manto had homered twice against Seattle on Thursday, and afterward, after the horde of media had departed, a few of his friends gathered around his locker, congratulating him. Now was the time you figured he would cut loose, brag a little, with the cameras gone.
Manto shook his head. "Got to do it again tomorrow," he said.
He probably didn't mean it literally, though.
Springer pitched him away, a fastball on the outer half of the plate, and Manto leaned forward, on his front foot, and reached out to hit the ball. A millisecond before the moment of contact, Manto's back foot came off the ground. This is how strong Manto is: The ball carried into the right-field stands.
Hitting coach Lee May talked afterward about how Manto does this, shifting his body weight just as someone does as they throw a ball, from back leg to front. "It doesn't matter if his back leg is up in the air," May said, "as long as he's got that weight shift. . . . He has an idea of what he's doing up there."
Manto is 30, most of his career spent in the minor leagues. At age 29, he said, he learned how to hit the ball to the opposite field, and this is why he hit 31 homers in 131 Triple-A games last year and was voted the International League MVP. "Only took me eight years to learn," he joked during spring training.
Baines doubled to open the fourth, and Hoiles tied the score with a two-run smash that barely cleared the left-field wall, creeping over the leap of left fielder Tony Phillips. It was the fourth time in two days Baines had scored as the lead runner on a two-run homer.
Two outs into the fifth inning, with Springer still pitching, Palmeiro drove a bases-empty homer over the right-field scoreboard, and the Orioles led for the first time, 5-4.
Manto led off the sixth. The Camden Yards crowd, 40,782 last night, has started to cheer Manto before his name is announced, a sure sign of a player going good. A sure sign that third base is his.
This time, he rocketed a liner into the left-field stands, and became the first major-league player to hit two homers in a game for two straight games since Barry Bonds did it July 15-16 last year, against Montreal. He is the first Oriole to do this since Eddie Murray beat on the White Sox, May 8-9, way back in 1987 -- the year Manto hit seven homers in 112 games for Single-A Palm Springs.
Manto's second homer Thursday came on his last at-bat, and last night, he drew a walk between his homers, meaning that Manto has homered in three straight official at-bats (the streak is still alive; Manto walked in his fourth plate appearance last night).
Palmeiro hit his monster homer later in the inning, a two-run shot, and the Orioles added another run in the eighth, and just as he did in his only start in '94, Klingenbeck was the winning pitcher.
"He did exactly what we wanted him to do," Regan said. "We wanted him to go five or six innings, and that's what he did."
Pitchers often hibernate on the day they start, holing up in the trainer's room for privacy (Mike Mussina), meditating between a set of headphones (Sid Fernandez), or generally wishing to remain undisturbed (Ben McDonald).
But a couple of hours before making his second major-league start, Klingenbeck sat in the dugout, arms outstretched on the bench, legs crossed, smiling, chatting freely. Klingenbeck was called up for one start last June against Detroit, and, he said last night, he felt much more relaxed this time around.
"Maybe I should've been more nervous," he said.
If he wasn't nervous before the first inning, he sure should've been afterward. Klingenbeck didn't walk anybody in his last start for Triple-A Rochester, but he started the game by walking Phillips. Two batters later Angels right fielder Tim Salmon rifled a two-run homer into the left-field seats.
There was more. Chili Davis walked, and after J. T. Snow flied to center for the second out, Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds smacked a ball into the right-field seats. You know you're going badly when Edmonds -- who's never hit more than nine homers in any of his eight seasons as a professional -- flips the bat as if he knows the ball is gone.
One inning into his 1995 debut and Klingenbeck's ERA was 36.00. A disastrous start.
But Klingenbeck recovered, in a big way.
Jorge Fabregas singled to start the second, and then the right-hander retired the next 12 hitters. That bought time for the Orioles to power their way back into the game.
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Mike Bielecki (2-2, 4.26) vs. Orioles' Ben McDonald (1-3, 4.37)
Tickets: 5,400 remain