MILWAUKEE -- The Orioles have found the magic formula, the blueprint for victory they misplaced back in April. Voila: Hit homers, get solid starting pitching and keep their relievers rested and, preferably, out in the bullpen.
This is probably the first time since the start of the season, Brady Anderson said yesterday after the Orioles beat Milwaukee, 6-4, that the Orioles have played this well. They've won eight out of the first 10 games on the road trip, and as they begin a crucial three-game series in Chicago tonight, the Orioles are three games behind the White Sox in the wild-card race.
"I think we're scoring about 10 runs a game, and that helps," Anderson said dryly, after hitting his 35th homer of the year, one of three two-run homers hit by the Orioles. Eddie Murray homered, the 494th of his career, which allowed him to pass Lou Gehrig on the all-time list, and Bobby Bonilla blasted his 16th homer and his fourth since the Orioles didn't trade him July 31.
"But anytime you get starting pitching as good as ours has been, you're going to do pretty well," Anderson said. "If you put together a streak like this, you're doing a lot of things right."
To say the least. The Orioles swept three games from Milwaukee, as they swept Minnesota last week, and in each game they got terrific starting pitching. Mike Mussina shut down the Brewers on Tuesday night, allowing four hits in eight innings, and Scott Erickson followed with a complete-game victory Tuesday.
And yesterday, rookie Rocky Coppinger gutted his way through five innings, allowing five hits and two runs, to pick up his seventh victory. Jimmy Haynes may have been a major disappointment this season, but Coppinger is doing everything the Orioles hoped Haynes would do -- and more.
Coppinger is providing a presence. Veteran players are saying it: When Coppinger takes the mound, everybody believes he's going to give the Orioles a good chance to win, even in games when he doesn't have his best stuff. He didn't have his best stuff against the Brewers.
The Brewers loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, and Jose Valentin, Milwaukee's veteran shortstop, strode to the plate, having hit 15 homers of his 17 homers from the left side of the plate. The count ran to 3-2, and Coppinger had to throw a strike; he had to throw a fastball to Valentin, a dead fastball hitter. As he released the pitch, Coppinger knew instantly he had thrown the ball way too high, eye-high.
But Valentin chased the pitch, swinging and missing. Coppinger had gotten lucky, and he knew it. "You know, sometimes that's just the way it is in baseball," he said later. "Sometimes that happens."
Coppinger then struck outMatt Mieske on a slider to stifle Milwaukee's rally.
Working on three days' rest, Coppinger had required 37 pitches to get through the first scoreless inning, and he was nearing 100 in the fifth inning, when the Brewers, down 4-0, pieced together four straight hits for two runs. Milwaukee had runners at second and third and one out, Roger McDowell was warming up , and Coppinger knew he wasn't going to be around much longer. Coppinger wanted to get through the fifth inning, to qualify for the victory.
The left-handed-hitting Dave Nilsson was due to bat for the Brewers, and Orioles manager Davey Johnson ordered an intentional walk, loading the bases. It was a move that went strictly against common strategy: Johnson was putting the potential lead run on first base, with one out. But, Johnson said, Coppinger "wasn't getting his changeup over and he had hung a few sliders.
"There was no way Nilsson was going to bat," Johnson said. "He hangs a pitch and all of a sudden we'd be down 5-4. That wasn't going to happen."
Instead, Johnson wanted Coppinger to pitch to a slow right-handed hitter, John Jaha, and Coppinger struck out Jaha with a slider. Two outs.
Valentin was next, with a chance to put the Brewers right back in the game. But Valentin admitted later that he had lost concentration after chasing Coppinger's high fastball in the first inning. "That bothered me the rest of the day," he said.
This time around, Coppinger struck out Valentin with a sharp slider. The Rock had found a way.
The Orioles' bullpen took it from there. The relievers took a beating in July, particularly after Arthur Rhodes and Roger McDowell were sidelined with shoulder injuries. However, the bullpen can be effective when it isn't relied upon heavily. Jesse Orosco, Roger McDowell, Alan Mills and Randy Myers, who combined to pitch the final four innings, had all had two or three days off.
"They went for four innings today," said pitching coach Pat Dobson, "but the key was we didn't need them for a couple of days. Four innings in one game is better than four innings for three straight games. It gives a chance for guys to stay strong."
They are getting stronger, by the day. "At this point," Anderson said, "we understand the significance of every game."
One up on Gehrig
Eddie Murray passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time home run list with his 494th yesterday:
1. Hank Aaron 755
2. Babe Ruth 714
3. Willie Mays 660
4. Frank Robinson 586
5. Harmon Killebrew 573
6. Reggie Jackson 563
7. Mike Schmidt 548
8. Mickey Mantle 536
9. Jimmie Foxx 534
10. Willie McCovey 521
(tie) Ted Williams 521
12. Ernie Banks 512
(tie) Eddie Mathews 512
14. Mel Ott 511
15. Eddie Murray 494
16. Lou Gehrig 493
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 8/09/96