CHICAGO -- The Orioles had a leg up on Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jason Bere before last night's game. His leg, actually.
Word from advance scout Deacon Jones was that while Bere was throwing well, he had a high, slow leg kick in his delivery with runners on base. If the Orioles had the chance, Jones reported, they could steal bases easily.
The Orioles did get chances to run against Bere, and they ran. With abandon. The team stole six bases and ran away with a 5-2 victory over the White Sox.
Mike Mussina threw 7 2/3 innings to pick up his fourth straight win and ninth overall. The Orioles have won the first three games of this four-game series that leads up to the All-Star break, and Scott Erickson, pitching for the first time since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins, will go for the sweep today.
Advance scouts carry stopwatches to clock just about anything that can be timed. A hitter's speed going to first, a catcher's throw to second, a pitcher's delivery to home plate. A delivery time of 1.3 seconds is considered pretty good, but Bere's time of 1.7 seconds, or sometimes 1.8, is very slow. The Orioles talked about this before last night's game, the need to be aggressive base runners against Bere.
A handful of Orioles have the green light from manager Phil Regan to run just about any time they want. If they see an opportunity to steal a base, they can go ahead and try. Bere and his slow delivery to the plate, that's opportunity. A rookie catcher, Chris Tremie, who may not have the temerity to make Bere throw to first more or speed up his delivery, that's opportunity.
"We talked before the season about being aggressive, and I think the players are starting to get a feel for it," Regan said.
Orioles center fielder Curtis Goodwin said, "[Bere] had a real high leg kick, and we had to take advantage of it. He didn't have a slide-step or anything. It wasn't really the catcher's fault."
Brady Anderson walked to lead off the game and immediately swiped second. Anderson failed to advance past third, but their intent was obvious.
One out into the second inning, Chris Hoiles doubled and advanced to third when Goodwin chopped a single down the third-base line. Goodwin broke for second base, and as he slid into second, Tremie's throw hit him in the ankle and rolled into left field. Hoiles trotted home, and Goodwin pushed off second baseman Craig Grebeck and scampered to third. Speed kills.
Anderson struck out, but Manny Alexander, who has been the Orioles' top run-producer over the past two weeks, singled to left, driving home Goodwin and giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead. Alexander stole second, his ninth stolen base, but Rafael Palmeiro -- in the midst of an 0-for-20 slump -- grounded out to end the inning.
The Orioles were back at it in the third inning. After Cal Ripken grounded out, the White Sox's infield shifted dramatically for designated hitter Harold Baines. Three infielders on the right-field side of second base, and third baseman Robin Ventura stationed where shortstop Ozzie Guillen is usually positioned.
Baines beat the shift, however, by mashing a single through the left side of the infield. Jeffrey Hammonds struck out, but Jeff Huson walked to keep the inning alive for Hoiles.
On Friday, Hoiles hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to beat the White Sox, a blast that seemed to confirm that he was officially out of his season-long slump. He reaffirmed that with his second-inning double. Then, in the third, Hoiles lined a single to left to score Baines.
Hoiles is over the Mendoza line now, his average having risen from .199 to .206 last night.
Goodwin followed with another single, driving home Huson with the Orioles' fourth run, and then he stole second -- his 16th steal. Goodwin said in his first days with the Orioles that he could see no reason why he couldn't average a stolen base a game over the final 110 games of the season. Preposterous, of course, but he's on a pace to steal 50. Not bad for someone called up more than a month into the season.
The Orioles' aggressiveness provided an insurance run. With two outs, Huson walked and, on the first pitch, he stole second. White Sox manager Terry Bevington stalked out to the mound and replaced Bere with left-hander Tim Fortugno, and Hoiles was intentionally walked.
That brought the left-handed-hitting Goodwin to the plate. He smashed a grounder through the middle, and Huson scored.
The Orioles fell just one stolen base short of the team record, set in 1986. It came as no surprise, then, when Ron Karkovice replaced the beleaguered Tremie at the start of the eighth inning.
Bevington said, "It was all Jason. Tremie was clocked at 1.91 [throwing to second]. Those are good throws. . . . He didn't have a chance."
Mussina didn't give the White Sox a chance, even pitching without his good fastball and without much control of his breaking pitch. Mussina would say afterward that his best pitch was his changeup; he got through one inning throwing nothing )) but his change of pace.
The White Sox's offense consisted of two home run swings. Frank Thomas hit one leading off the sixth, the fifth of his career against Mussina, and Karkovice hit one off Doug Jones in the ninth.
Regan was impressed with Mussina, saying, "He's pitching as well as he has all year."
The Orioles are playing about as well as they have all year. They have won 11 of their past 16 and have closed within six games of the Boston Red Sox.
In early June, Regan said he hoped the Orioles would be four or five games behind the Red Sox at the All-Star break. If that happens, he said then, they would be in good shape. They would be ready for the second-half pursuit.
+ Today, he may get his wish.
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas historically batters Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina; he was 13-for-21 with four homers going into last night's game. Thomas struck out in his first at-bat, grounded to third in his second at-bat -- and hit a bases-empty homer leading off the sixth. He flied out in the eighth.
In the dugout: The Orioles' Phil Regan managed with a full complement of relievers last night, plus one. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who started on Wednesday and won't start again before the All-Star break, started warming up during Chicago's rally in the sixth inning.
In the clubhouse: "I felt a lot better after that," said Mussina, referring to Thomas' homer. 'He's going to hit the ball off me sooner or later. What was he, 1-for-4? That's a huge accomplishment for me. At least he hit the homer leading off an inning."
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
Time: 2:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (4-6, 5.95) vs. White Sox's Alex Fernandez (4-5, 5.04)