Greg Zaun went to Mass before making his first major-league start. Eight-thirty in the morning, and he prayed. For hits?
"No," he said emphatically, Zaun's tone suggesting that, of course, you can't ask God for something like that.
Then he paused. He couldn't lie about his prayers.
"Yeah," Zaun acknowledged, "I prayed for hits."
He had two hits, in fact, among the 15 by the Orioles, in their HTC 10-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox yesterday, before a sellout crowd of 47,561. In doing so, the Orioles split a four-game series with first-place Boston, remaining eight games behind.
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro had three hits and an RBI, shortstop Cal Ripken hit a three-run homer, and Arthur Rhodes pitched exceptionally in his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester, striking out nine and walking only two over eight innings.
But the Orioles continued to be battered by injuries. Before the game, they placed pitcher Gene Harris on the 15-day disabled list -- he may have severely injured his elbow pitching in Saturday's game -- and purchased the contract of pitcher John DeSilva from Triple-A Rochester.
During the game, third baseman Jeff Manto, who has 12 homers this season, pulled his left hamstring, and he, too, was placed on the Orioles' crowded 15-day DL. In his place, the club purchased the contract of Triple-A infielder Jeff Huson.
Despite the run of injuries, however, the Orioles won what manager Phil Regan called "one of the biggest games of the year for us. If we lose, we go on the road 10 games behind [the Red Sox]. We came out and we played well."
Usually, Zaun was the first guy on and off the field, sprinting from the dugout to home and vice versa between innings. Veteran outfielder Kevin Bass chuckled over Zaun, watching him sprint all-out to first on every play, playing with so much verve. Rookie energy, Bass said.
Or maybe that's just the way Zaun is every day, like his uncle, Rick Dempsey. He is a replica -- just a little smaller, maybe. A living, breathing cup of coffee that hits from both sides of the plate and catches and throws.
Pitching coach Mike Flanagan said: "It's unbelievable. Any ball in the dirt with a runner on third is going to be blocked. It's in the Dempsey genes. He can't help it."
General manager Roland Hemond said: "To me, he looks more like a son [of Dempsey] than a nephew."
Zaun couldn't wait for his first start in the big leagues. His folks had flown in from Glendale, Calif., as soon as he was called up last week, and they waited for six days before they saw him make his first big-league appearance, on Saturday night, as a pinch runner for Chris Hoiles. On the seventh day, Hoiles rested.
And Zaun started, in part because he'd had success catching Rhodes at Rochester. Zaun ran out to the plate for the first inning.
"Hi," he said to home plate umpire Dan Morrison, "my name's Greg. What's yours?"
Then Zaun went about the business at hand, trying to keep Rhodes' delivery in sync, and give him a nice, low target. He said afterward that it helped him to catch someone he knew in his first start, he felt much more comfortable with Rhodes than he would've with, say, Mike Mussina.
"He did a great job with Arthur," said Regan, adding that Zaun may continue to catch Rhodes -- and others -- in the future.
The Orioles pummeled Red Sox starter and former Orioles farmhand Vaughn Eshelman right from the start. They loaded the bases with one out in the first, when rains forced a delay of 37 minutes. After play resumed, Jeffrey Hammonds fought back from an 0-2 count, waited nicely on a changeup and smacked it into left field for two runs. The inning ended with Zaun grounding out to Eshelman with the bases loaded.
Eshelman walked two in the second, before Ripken mashed his three-run homer. Mike Maddux replaced Eshelman for the third, and was in trouble immediately. He walked Bass, gave up a double to Manto, and Zaun walked to the plate with two runners in scoring position.
He had never faced Maddux, but had been told that the veteran right-hander had a good curveball, so that's what he looked for: the curve. Look for the curve.
Maddux threw a curve, and Zaun slapped a single into right-center, scoring two runs. First base umpire Al Clark called time and asked Maddux for the ball, and threw it into the Orioles' dugout for Zaun.
Zaun later singled and scored in the fifth, and after the game, Zaun rushed out of the clubhouse, looking for his parents. But they had left to catch their flight back to Glendale, leaving a written note with his sister: Congratulations. We're proud of you, and we'll talk to you soon.
"The most enjoyable part of this," Zaun said, "was that I got my first hits in front of my parents. . . . It was awesome."
! Prayers answered.
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Site: County Stadium, Milwaukee
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer (1-3, 5.63) vs. Brewers' Angel Miranda (4-2, 5.44)