Plug a slugger capable of hitting 30 homers into the middle of your lineup and suddenly all the components of your lineup look better. That's what happened with the Orioles, now that Bobby Bonilla is hitting cleanup.
Harold Baines is a solid No. 5 hitter, but bump him down with the addition of Bonilla and Baines becomes an extraordinary No. 6 hitter. Catcher Chris Hoiles, likely to be activated off the disabled list today, is a good No. 6 hitter but a great No. 7 hitter.
Shortstop Cal Ripken is a decent cleanup hitter, but hitting fifth he is a force. Yesterday, he drove in four runs in the Orioles' 8-3 victory over the White Sox before 47,290 at Oriole Park, a win that moved the team within 4 1/2 games of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
Scott Erickson -- able to pitch aggressively because of an early lead -- walked none, struck out eight and threw the Orioles' fifth complete game of the season.
Brady Anderson had three hits, two stolen bases and scored two runs. After singling in the first inning and asking for and getting the ball, White Sox designated hitter John Kruk retired.
Bonilla walked twice and scored a run, and was hitless in three official at-bats; he is still searching for his first hit with the Orioles. But even without getting a hit, Bonilla is affecting the offense, making the lineup much deeper.
"They already had a pretty good lineup, and he definitely adds to it," said White Sox starter Jason Bere, who allowed six walks and seven runs in 2 1/3 innings.
"He adds power to the middle of their lineup," Bere added. "They get their speedy guys on base and then they have the middle of the order. And the guys at the bottom of the lineup are doing their job, too."
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro said, "It's a big lift having him in the lineup."
From the start. Anderson singled to open the first, and after he stole second, Bret Barberie walked. Palmeiro bounced into a fielder's choice, leaving runners at first and third.
Bonilla, much less nervous and much more selective than he had been Saturday, waited out a walk, loading the bases for Ripken, who had one RBI in his previous 11 games.
A decent cleanup hitter. A great No. 5 hitter, Ripken. He reached down and pulled a low line drive down the left-field line that bounced fair by the width of a bat and rolled into the corner. As left fielder Tim Raines wrestled with the ricochets, Anderson, Palmeiro and Bonilla scored, all standing. The double gave the Orioles a lead they would never relinquish.
Erickson, again, enjoyed the luxury of pitching with a big lead. In his first start for the Orioles, on July 9, his teammates scored 11 runs, and in his second they scored nine. In all, the Orioles have scored 34 runs with Erickson pitching in his five starts, almost seven runs per game.
He threw strikes, made the White Sox swing the bats, didn't worry about much except keeping the ball in play and maintaining a safe lead.
The Orioles scored three more runs in the second inning, added another in the third, Barberie driving in two runs with a double and a sacrifice fly, and Ripken collecting his fourth RBI -- matching his season high -- on a second-inning single.
"Ripken had a great day," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "I think it's a perfect spot for him in the lineup. He's going to get a lot of pitches to hit between Bonilla and Baines.
"I like the lineup we had today. We had seven left-handed hitters in there, and when the other pitcher looks up there, there's not an easy out."
As Bere acknowledged.
Baines wouldn't endorse the idea that Ripken, sandwiched between several established hitters, would get more fastballs. ("He didn't get hits because he got fastballs over the middle of the plate," Baines said. "He got hits off good pitches.")
But, Baines said, Bonilla will help because he gets on base.
"He's definitely going to get on base," said Baines. "He's definitely going to drive in runs."
Those RBIs will come, presumably, after Bonilla gets a hit. Having chased a number of bad pitches in his debut Saturday, Bonilla felt more comfortable yesterday, although he did take several monster swings.
"Right now," Ripken said, "he may be trying to hit the ball over the warehouse, instead of just off of it."
Bonilla said, "I did reach [first]. I can say that I've been on the Camden Yards first-base bag. That's a big accomplishment."
Barberie played against Bonilla in the National League, and marveled at his power.
"He is just going to go crazy over here," Barberie said. "He's going to tear it up once he relaxes. The people over here love him."
Imagine how much they'll love him once he provides the teeth for the middle of a revamped lineup.
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Pat Hentgen (7-8, 5.94) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (6-3, 3.86)
Tickets: 7,500 remain