The Emotion Issue, as it could be called, cuts both ways. The Orioles team that seemed to drift stoically through early defeats may be well-suited to face the adversity that is before them now, the loss of two-fifths of their starting rotation.
Manager Phil Regan planned a peppy speech for his players before last night's game, thinking they might be down after pitchers Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald went on the disabled list. But he liked their collective mood and kept his words of wisdom to himself, and the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 7-5, before 46,306 at Camden Yards.
The two-part message that Regan planned to deliver to his players was simple: Keep your heads up, and everybody must come together and contribute. Without prompting, they did just that, en masse.
Mike Mussina, who must carry the burden for a couple of weeks, threw 6 2/3 solid innings and recovered nicely from two awful starts on the last road trip. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro had two hits and scored three runs. Jeff Manto lashed a two-out, two-run double, and Kevin Bass hit a two-out, two-run single.
Brady Anderson hit his first homer since June 8. Armando Benitez, sent down a little more than two weeks ago after giving up a grand slam and plunking the next hitter, pitched a scoreless inning in his first outing since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester.
"I think this is the way it's going to be for the next couple of weeks," said Regan, "because we're going to start a lot of different guys in the rotation."
And the bullpen will become doubly important, Regan said. With less-experienced and less-efficient starters, Regan will be asking his relievers to carry a greater burden. They will need more
clutch hits, with more regularity.
"To me," Regan said, "it's going to take a real concentrated effort to win the next couple of weeks."
At the least, he will get a consistent effort. Bass said the Orioles are a team of "professionals" -- guys who will be consistent, who will play with the same intensity whether they're playing well or whether they've just lost two critical pitchers to injury. "You won't see this team," Bass said, "get too high or too low."
Mussina, for example. In his last start before last night, he had been knocked out after one-plus inning in Detroit, the shortest outing of his career. He bounced back against the Red Sox, after a bit of a ragged start. Lee Tinsley doubled to lead off the game and scored on a grounder, and then Tinsley homered to open the third.
But Mussina settled down, throwing more breaking pitches and changeups for strikes, something he had not done consistently in his recent starts. He allowed seven hits and four walks in 6 2/3 innings and won at home. Again. Mussina is 6-1 at Camden Yards this year, with a 3.18 ERA, compared to 0-4 and 8.17 on the road.
"I'm just going to pitch at home," he joked.
Regan said, "It was nice to see Mike Mussina pitch well and win a ballgame. . . . He's a guy we're going to need in the next couple of weeks."
Another item on Regan's wish list in what could be the pivotal period of the Orioles' season: more run production. They got that against Red Sox starter Zane Smith.
Tinsley's homer in the third tied the score at 2, but the Orioles answered immediately. Jeffrey Hammonds singled with one out in the third, and Palmeiro hit a chopper back in front of home. Smith rushed in, spun and threw to second.
A poor choice. The throw was slightly off line, and Hammonds may have beaten the play anyway. As it was, Hammonds was safe at second, and Palmeiro beat the relay to first base.
Cal Ripken hit a grounder to second baseman Luis Alicea, who tried to start a double play by throwing to Terry Shumpert. But Palmeiro, on the move with the pitch, beat the throw to second, and Boston had to settle for one out, when Shumpert relayed to first to get Ripken.
Next to hit: Manto, who has been in a mild slump of late, his once-enormous batting average shrinking to .274 before last night's game. He hammered a line drive to center. Tinsley had a shot at making the catch, but to do so would have required a perfect and direct route to the spot where the ball descended. This he did not do.
Manto wound up on second with a double, and both runners scored to give the Orioles a 4-2 lead.
They got another big two-out hit in the fifth. Palmeiro and Ripken singled, and both runners advanced when Manto's grounder ricocheted from Smith to Shumpert, who threw Manto out at first.
Designated hitter Bass -- who began the game with a .339 average in 56 lifetime at-bats against Smith -- singled, driving home Palmeiro and Ripken. Chris Hoiles singled, driving Smith to the showers, but reliever Frankie Rodriguez got the last out of the inning on a fielder's choice grounder.
Anderson padded the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
With one out, Rodriguez slipped two quick strikes past Anderson, and then threw him a belt-high fastball over the middle of the plate, and the Orioles' left fielder turned on it, mashing a homer over the scoreboard in right.
The Red Sox, down 7-2 after eight, rallied in the top of the ninth against closer Doug Jones, scoring three runs with five singles. But with runners at first and second and two out, left-hander Mark Lee relieved Jones and struck out Mike Greenwell on three pitches for his first save.
"This," Regan said, "was a big win."
They're going to need many more just like it, with help from just as many. Eight games out of first place, with 92 games to play.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (4-1, 1.59) vs. Orioles' Scott Klingenbeck (2-1, 5.63)
Tickets: 2,000 remain