A sign of the times popped up at Camden Yards in the second inning last night: SUPER MANTO, in blue, block letters. You can't always believe what you read, especially when it's as surreal as a career minor-leaguer challenging major-league home run records.
But believe this. Super Manto. Orioles third baseman Jeff Manto -- who had four major-league homers before the season started -- hit another last night, after hitting two on Thursday and two on Friday, and the surging Orioles won again, beating the California Angels, 6-2, before 45,712 at Camden Yards.
Manto connected in the second inning last night and became the 24th player in big-league history to homer in four straight at-bats.
Curtis Goodwin, the other phenomenon in progress, had three hits and improved his batting average to .472; he has eight multi-hit games in his first nine days in the majors. Ben McDonald pitched eight solid innings, aided by three double plays.
And helped by more Manto magic.
"Just don't wake him up," said McDonald. "Nobody bother him, just let him go. He's the man right now."
Before the game, Orioles hitting coach Lee May had been teasing Manto, saying he couldn't catch the record that May tied in 1969, three straight games with two or more homers.
The idea that Manto could tie this record was . . . nuts. He had started the year as a utility man, and now he was challenging records held by guys like May, Eddie Murray and Bo Jackson. But, then, Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has been telling his teammates for three weeks: Watch this guy. Watch him. He's locked in.
The Camden Yards crowd locked in on Manto as he walked up to the plate in the second inning, their cheers rising long before his name was announced. The SUPER MANTO sign was held high. Angels starter Mike Bielecki threw his second pitch to Manto, who took it, and in the Orioles' bullpen, Jesse Orosco said to Mike Oquist, "I think he's going to do it."
Oquist replied, "I think he's going to do it on this pitch.
Bielecki threw a 1-1 breaking ball that hung, and Manto crushed it. The Manto mash landed in the left-field seats, and as Manto rounded third, Oquist was jumping up and down in the bullpen, high-fiving his teammates.
"He's something else right now," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "He's just locked in."
The Angels learned Friday night about Manto magic, and the third baseman's first at-bat last night reinforced the idea that this guy was on a Reggie Jackson-like tear; from the fourth inning on, they started dealing with him very carefully, as if they were tiptoeing around a snake in the grass.
With one out into the Orioles' fourth, Cal Ripken singled and Harold Baines walked. Catcher Chris Hoiles, slowly coming out of his slump, whacked a single to left and Ripken rumbled home, sliding just under the tag.
The cheers for Ripken turned into roars for the next hitter, Manto. But he never got a pitch to hit, Bielecki opting to throw curveballs in the dirt and fastballs up and out of the strike zone rather than throw a ball over the plate and risking another Manto blast.
The Orioles got another run out of the inning, when Goodwin singled into the shortstop hole to score Baines, and the Orioles led 4-2.
Manto came up again in the sixth, carrying his streak of four homers in four official at-bats. One more and the record was all his.
Bielecki threw a fastball inside, and Manto was jammed, the ball going high -- the roar of the crowd rising -- and then falling, as the ball fell into the glove of Jim Edmonds in short center field.
Manto has shown little emotion other than understated smiles during his run, but after this at-bat, he removed his batting gloves and slammed them into his helmet. Almost.
"After I got to thinking about it, [the record] would've been kind of nice. But now I'm back to reality," he said.
Kevin Bass turned to Andy Van Slyke in the Orioles' dugout, grinning. Something new: Manto making an out. "He stinks," Bass said, and they both laughed.
Manto said this is the most fun he has had in his career. "When you're having success, it's fun," he said. "It's even better when you're playing on a championship-caliber ballclub."
Goodwin started their seventh-inning rally, bouncing a single into right field with one out. He stole second, and the throw of catcher Jorge Fabregas tipped off the glove of Gary DiSarcina and rolled into short right field. Goodwin cruised to third.
Brady Anderson flied to short center before Jeffrey Hammonds drove a liner into the left-center-field gap. Goodwin scored, and Hammonds, his arms pumping and pumping, dived head-first into third to beat the throw and tag for a triple.
Palmeiro walked and Ripken singled to score Hammonds. Orioles 6, Angels 2.
McDonald, who pitched so masterfully against Seattle on Monday but lost when Randy Johnson shut out the Orioles, got into trouble immediately last night. Leadoff hitter Tony Phillips slammed a double off the right-field scoreboard.
Angels second baseman Spike Owen doubled into the corner, and two batters into the game McDonald trailed 1-0 and he had yet to face the heart of the California order. He pitched out of the inning, however, with no more runs scoring. Tim Salmon struck out, Chili Davis popped to short and J. T. Snow grounded to first.
California trailed 2-1 in the fourth inning, when Davis unloaded on a 3-0 fastball, launching his seventh homer of the year to dead center, the ball tickling the ivy-covered wall behind the center field fence, 445 feet. It was the third-longest homer in Camden Yards history.
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Mark Langston (4-1, 4.85) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (1-1, 4.91)
Tickets: 5,900 remain
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Dundalk's Mike Bielecki started for the Angels last night, as his father Andy Bielecki looked on. Just before Bielecki departed for spring training, his father was coming out of quadruple-bypass heart surgery and was extremely groggy. Last night was the first time Andy Bielecki has gotten to see his son pitch since the operation.
In the dugout: Orioles manager Phil Regan hoped that he could get through last night without exhausting starter Ben McDonald so that the right-hander could pitch against the Indians on Wednesday on three days' rest. In this way, the Orioles could throw their top three starters -- Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and McDonald -- against the league's best-hitting team. McDonald threw 103 pitches, and afterward Regan said McDonald would be ready for the last game of the Cleveland series.
In the clubhouse: "I was wondering if I could count my arbitration victory on my record, but I don't know if they'd let me." -- McDonald, who improved his record (baseball record, that is) to 2-3 last night.