The questions about his knee are gone. The memories of his minor-league demotion last month are forgotten.
Jeffrey Hammonds is back to playing the role of major-league hero. His two doubles and career-high four RBIs helped the Orioles overcome a five-run deficit and defeat the New York Yankees, 8-7, last night before 45,070 at Camden Yards.
Afterward, Hammonds joked about hitting the game-winner.
"I wanted to be the hero tonight," Hammonds said. "Mickey's been the hero the last few nights. I wanted it a little bit."
Mickey is Jeff Manto, whose two-run homer capped off a four-run fifth inning that pulled the Orioles within 7-6. Hammonds' second double put them over the top. It scored Manny Alexander (who singled and stole second) and Brady Anderson (who walked) as the Orioles completed their uphill climb from a grand slam by Gerald Williams and a 7-2 deficit.
The ball rolled all the way to the left-field wall. Hammonds, whose right knee was surgically reconstructed after last season, flew around first, slid into second, and jumped up and pumped his fist with joy.
It was the joy of a player coming back from a serious injury and of a team trying to win its second in a row after losing seven straight.
"That's what it's all about," Hammonds said. "And it's going to get even better. It feels good. It's something to smile about.
"The whole team was the hero tonight," he said. "Everybody played good."
But there also was a personal satisfaction that was apparent. "Am I happy to be part of it? Yes!" said Hammonds, with a wide grin. "It feels great to finally be contributing for once."
It was Hammonds' best feeling since his last act of major-league heroism, a June 9 sudden-death homer against Oakland last season. After that game, Hammonds playfully saluted the crowd. This one was more of a team victory.
Leaving a last-place tie with New York, the Orioles (21-28) pulled into a tie with third-place Toronto in the AL East, seven games behind Boston, which lost for the second night in a row.
The bullpen -- five relievers bailed out starter Arthur Rhodes -- gamely held onto the lead that Hammonds gave the Orioles in the sixth.
Mark Lee and Gene Harris got them out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh, and Jesse Orosco struck out Paul O'Neill with two outs and a man on first in the eighth.
Doug Jones finished, striking out two, for his ninth save.
The team's come-from-behind win showed heart.
"It's good to see us with spirit like that," said Orioles manager Phil Regan, who went nose-to-nose with umpire Gary Cederstrom at one point. "It was pretty exciting."
Added Manto: "In the past, I would've thought we were finished, but tonight we came through. The hitting was contagious, and I didn't want to be the one to make the outs."
Manto's and Hammonds' heroics seemed improbable when the winning pitcher -- Mike Oquist (1-0) -- threw two pitches and gave up the fifth-inning grand slam to Williams. The fifth grand slam yielded by Orioles pitchers this season gave the Yankees a seemingly insurmountable 7-2 lead.
But the Orioles responded with a four-run fifth inning of their own. Manto's 11th homer, a two-run shot to left field off starter Sterling Hitchcock, pulled the Orioles within one.
Hammonds' first double was one of three before Manto's homer. It scored Anderson. Then Hammonds scored on Rafael Palmeiro's one-hopper over the Crown Petroleum sign in left. The three doubles and Manto's mash got Oquist, the senior member of the Orioles' bullpen with the demotion of Alan Mills, the win.
And it may have gotten Rhodes another start.
Rhodes was making his first major-league start since May 25. In 4 2/3 innings, he walked four, struck out five and allowed eight hits.
Regan said that Rhodes threw too many pitches (104) and that his next start depends on Ben McDonald's sore shoulder.
Rhodes also seemed to let up every time he had gotten two outs.
He had two outs in the fifth because of a beautiful double play initiated by a diving Alexander. Then he walked Danny Tartabull, who had homered in the third, gave up a single to Russ Davis and walked Don Mattingly after nearly hitting him.
Regan saw a pattern forming -- Rhodes gave up two-out hits in the fourth, third (Tartabull's homer) and first -- and brought in Oquist.
The Yankees led 3-2 when Rhodes departed.
But Hitchcock, making his first start on three days' rest, was equally vulnerable.
In five innings pitched, Hitchcock allowed six runs and eight hits.
One of them was a homer to an overdue Chris Hoiles (1-for-21). Hoiles' fourth-inning homer, his seventh, cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Orioles' speed manufactured a run in the third. Speed that began with Curtis Goodwin.
Goodwin, who took extra bunting practice for the second day in a row, popped a bunt over Hitchcock's head for a hit. On the next pitch, he stole second for his team-leading ninth of the year.
Anderson hit a ball in between Mattingly and second baseman Velarde for an infield single, sending Goodwin to third. Then Hammonds scored Goodwin on a sacrifice fly for his first of four RBIs.
It was Hammonds' night, a tribute to his dogged recovery from surgery to repair an old high school football injury, his acceptance of a minor-league demotion to Bowie, and his success since his return.
Hammonds is batting .293 (22-for-75) with four doubles, a triple, three home runs and seven RBIs since his May 26 recall.
On Monday he legged out a base hit and gleefully sprinted home from first on Cal Ripken's double.
His legs are back. And with his four-RBI output last night, so is his bat.
His knee brace is the only reminder of the injury that slowed him down.
That too, will pass from view.
"I just want to put the brace behind me and go out and play," Hammonds said.
Opponent:New York Yankees
Site:Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio:HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters:Yankees' Andy Pettitte (1-4,4.46)vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (1-2,6.48)