MILWAUKEE -- The Orioles traded for Bret Barberie, asked about Craig Biggio and Chuck Knoblauch and discussed Bill Ripken.
Turns out they may have had the second baseman they wanted all along -- Manny Alexander, who had three hits and four RBIs in the Orioles' 11-3 drubbing of Milwaukee last night.
"He's getting better every day," manager Phil Regan said after the Orioles' third straight win. "He's really playing well. He's really improved."
John DeSilva, making his first start for the Orioles since being called up from Triple-A Rochester, scattered five hits over 5 1/3 innings and picked up his first major-league victory with shutout relief help from Mark Lee and Armando Benitez.
There were a handful of supporting actors in the Orioles' 15-hit attack, like Brady Anderson (three runs and two RBIs), Jeffrey Hammonds (three hits and two runs) and Rafael Palmeiro (two RBIs).
But Alexander played the lead, something he has wanted to do for several years now. The problem, of course, was that Alexander was a shortstop and the Orioles already had one. Right after he was hired last fall, Regan told Alexander if he was going to play, it would have to be as a second baseman.
Alexander seemed to take that to heart during winter ball, and in spring training -- until the season started. Barberie played and Alexander was sitting the bench and unhappy about it. Finally, Regan asked Palmeiro in late May to take Alexander under his wing, and right away, Regan noticed a change in Alexander.
He was working harder, with more enthusiasm, and after Barberie had a terrible game on national TV June 4, Regan tried Alexander at second -- and he has started all but two games
since, and played well.
He's hitting .328 in his past 19 starts, with 11 runs and nine RBIs. But his offense is just the window dressing to his improvement on defense: During the last homestand, and again in the series opener with the Brewers on Monday night, Alexander made plays ranging to his left worthy of highlight videotape.
"That makes sense, when you think about it," said Regan. "He's played so much shortstop, and he's very good at going up the middle."
Alexander has become more steady, too, making just two errors since becoming a regular, after committing four errors as a part-timer before taking over from Barberie.
Anderson said: "At the beginning [of the season], he seemed to have a hard time turning the double play, getting the ball to Cal [Ripken]."
Alexander said: "I'm feeling more relaxed . . . more comfortable."
And Regan is becoming more comfortable with him, too, moving him into the second spot, and letting him swing away in bunt situations, as he did in the fifth inning last night.
The Brewers, who have lost five in a row, led 2-1 going into the fifth. Leo Gomez, playing well since taking over for the injured Jeff Manto, singled to left against knuckleballer Steve Sparks (3-3). Curtis Goodwin was looking to bunt Gomez to second, but B. J. Surhoff's passed ball did that. Goodwin ran the count full, and drew a walk.
First and second, nobody out, Orioles down a run. Perfect bunt situation, and Anderson stared down at third base coach Steve Boros, looking for something amid the shell-game signs Boros was flashing. Brewers third baseman Jeff Cirillo creeped in on the grass.
And Anderson swung away, lining a foul down the first base line. He stepped out of the box, saw more signs. Cirillo backed off just a bit. Anderson took the second pitch, fouled off the third, and Cirillo backed up, because it was obvious now -- Anderson wasn't bunting.
Anderson fouled off two more, took ball two. Then he hit a single to center. Gomez raced around third, scored, and Goodwin sped to third. Tie game, first and third, and still nobody out. No outs had been given away. Former Orioles skipper Earl Weaver would've approved.
Still, there was the potential for a bunt from Alexander. A safety squeeze, perhaps, to advance Anderson to second, maybe score Goodwin from third. But Alexander hacked, lining a single off the foot of Sparks, the carom rolling onto the right-field grass. Goodwin scored, Anderson rambled to third; he would score on Palmeiro's fly ball.
The Orioles provided the coup de grace in the sixth inning. Hammonds singled and stole second. Gomez walked, and Goodwin grounded to second, both runners advancing.
Anderson dueled Sparks again, running the count full, fouling off pitches to stay alive, before walking and loading the bases. At that point, Brewers manager Phil Garner called for reliever Michael Ignasiak.
Alexander mashed a liner that landed and rolled between center fielder Hamilton and left fielder David Hulse, to the wall. Hammonds, Gomez and Anderson scored, Alexander's second, third and fourth RBIs of the night. Consider that the Orioles didn't get an RBI from a second baseman until their 19th game of the year.
Alexander came close to adding three more RBIs in the seventh. With runners on first and second and two out, he hammered a long, high line drive down the left-field line. It would be close to hitting the foul pole, he could see that, as he pranced up the line. A long drive -- foul, maybe a foot or two to the left of the pole. Alexander went back to the plate, smiling.
Oh, so close.
6* And Manny Alexander's come oh, so far.
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Plate umpire Mark Johnson missed a call in the second inning, a mistake that may have cost the Orioles a run. Greg Zaun doubled with one out and, with Leo Gomez at the plate, Steve Sparks threw a pitch that bounced off the glove of catcher B. J. Surhoff, the ball rolling toward the backstop. Zaun advanced to third. But Johnson ruled that Gomez fouled off the ball, and Gomez and Orioles manager Phil Regan were beside themselves because Johnson's ruling was nowhere near reality; replays showed the pitch was never close to Gomez's bat. Johnson wouldn't appeal to first base umpire Dave Phillips for help, either, further incensing Regan. Zaun returned to second, and Gomez flied out to medium center for the second out -- plenty far enough to score Zaun, had he been on third.
In the dugout: Because of the starts by Arthur Rhodes and Jamie Moyer, the Orioles' bullpen is plenty rested. Jimmy Myers hasn't pitched since being called up, Mike Oquist hasn't pitched in five days, and Jesse Orosco hasn't pitched in three days.
In the clubhouse: "We've seen guys who are just struggling like crazy. They come in here and they get whole all of a sudden." -- Brewers manager Phil Garner, bemoaning his club's AL-worst 10-17 home record.
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Site: County Stadium, Milwaukee
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-5, 4.91) vs. Brewers' Ricky Bones (4-5, 4.09)