Ben McDonald has embodied the Orioles' hopes and dreams ever since they made him the first pick in the 1989 amateur draft.
He was the future. Now he may be the past.
McDonald may have pitched his last game as an Oriole. If so, he went out with a flourish, throwing six innings of one-hit ball as the Orioles drubbed the Detroit Tigers, 12-0, before 47,132 at Camden Yards.
The thought has crossed the mind of the second-winningest pitcher in Camden Yards history that he may never pitch there for the home team again.
"I've thought about it a little bit," McDonald said. "I certainly hope it's not [the last time]. I want to be back here next year."
McDonald's first start since July 19 showed he has recovered from the shoulder tendinitis that kept McDonald (3-6, 4.16 ERA) on the disabled list from July 25 to Sept. 11.
He struck out six, walked five and allowed only a sixth-inning single to left by Chris Gomez.
McDonald said he was happy with his forkball. Manager Phil Regan commented on his good curveball.
And coming from Regan, who clashed with McDonald over his pitching out of the bullpen last month, that's a high compliment.
"He probably pitched a lot better than I thought he would after being out so long," Regan said.
Of course, good pitching is becoming a staple of the hot-closing Orioles, who have won 10 of their past 12.
It was the fourth straight shutout thrown by Orioles pitchers, one shy of the club record set Sept. 2-6, 1974.
"With [Kevin] Brown and [Scott] Erickson and [Mike] Mussina and McDonald, you think they can pitch a shutout every day," Regan said. "Now they're doing it at the same time."
Brady Anderson led the way offensively with a second-inning grand slam, the first of his career. Anderson also had an RBI single, tying his career high of five RBIs.
The Orioles also received RBI singles from Jeff Huson and Jeff Manto. Chris Hoiles and Kevin Bass had two RBIs apiece. Mark Smith had two doubles and drove in a run.
Not that the games matter now. "It doesn't erase the year we've had and I had," McDonald said.
McDonald's fortunes have been as frustrating as the team's. He admittedly came back too soon from tendinitis behind his right shoulder earlier in the season.
"If I had listened to the doctors, I probably could have gotten eight or 10 more starts this year," McDonald said.
That was mid-July. McDonald's shoulder got worse. This time, he took seven weeks off and got healthy.
He returned the second time amid controversy, at first refusing to pitch out of the bullpen because he said it would harm his shoulder. He also said Regan had promised him a start.
Regan and McDonald patched things up. McDonald pitched in relief of Jimmy Haynes Sept. 19 in Detroit, allowing three hits and one earned run in four innings.
His improvement was dramatic in yesterday's role reversal, with Haynes relieving McDonald and Jesse Orosco finishing up the two-hit shutout.
"I said my goal was to get better and it all worked out," McDonald said. "I just wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy and maybe to anyone else."
Anyone else might be teams looking for a No. 2 starter.
McDonald won a $4.5 million arbitration case earlier this season that makes him tough to re-sign, unless McDonald takes a pay cut above the 20 percent maximum.
The question is how much above the maximum the Orioles can offer. McDonald said he doesn't mind making less money.
"I took a pay cut in '91," McDonald said. "If that does happen, it won't be the first time. I'm a firm believer in getting paid on performance. . . . I'm not getting a raise next year."
The Orioles have a lot invested in him.
He seemed to come into his own the past few years.
McDonald won 14 games in strike-shortened 1994, pitched more than 220 innings in 1993 and 1992, and is wildly popular with his teammates.
Cal Ripken, who doesn't often speak publicly on such matters, said that if the Orioles are to be competitive, McDonald must return.
But Ripken doesn't write the checks, Peter Angelos does.
"Mr. Angelos has given me the indication I'll be back next year," McDonald said. "That's the only thing I can go on. He's the boss man; that's the guy you want to listen to."
Yesterday was Angelos' glimpse of what McDonald and the Orioles may be able to do.
Hits and misses
On the field: Before hitting his second-inning grand slam, Brady Anderson engaged in a brief ball-strike argument with home plate umpire Derryl Cousins. With the count 1-2, Anderson launched his grand slam into the right-field bleachers.
In the dugout: Jeffrey Hammonds made his second pinch-hitting appearance since being activated from the disabled list Sept. 3 and his first at home. Hammonds walked and flied out to left.
In the clubhouse: Anderson on the meaningfulness of this final homestand: "We're going to carry this momentum right into winter ball. Hopefully, we can win the Caribbean World Series."