ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles are learning to like The Ballpark in Arlington, which was the site of some of the most painful moments of their 1996 season.
Remember when they came here last April and gave up 43 runs in three games? Remember the night the Rangers scored 26 runs and the Orioles' bullpen featured a hard-throwing Dominican reliever named Manny Alexander? Another series like that and they would have had a full-fledged edifice complex.
Forget about it. The Orioles hammered out 14 hits and withstood a ninth-inning rally by Texas last night to score a 9-7 victory over the Rangers and move to the brink of a three-game sweep in the same place where they were hammered unmercifully for three straight games a year ago.
Forget about that, too. That team was in free fall after an impressive 11-2 start. This team has taken off at the same speed as last year's club -- both coming out of the gate with four straight victories -- but the pitching staff just might be deep enough to sustain it.
If the Orioles can complete the sweep behind ace Mike Mussina this afternoon, they will equal the longest winning streak to open a season in club history. The 1970 club -- which would go on to win the world championship -- opened the season with five straight victories and would win 103 more before the regular season was over.
This season, it has been all about the bullpen, which kept the Rangers off-balance from the fifth inning on. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes picked up for starter Shawn Boskie and pitched three innings of one-hit relief to get the victory.
Terry Mathews and Randy Myers did the rest. Orioles relievers have two victories and four saves this year, though Myers made this one a little interesting.
Cal Ripken appeared to break open a close game with a two-run homer in the ninth, but the Rangers rallied for two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Myers finally got pinch hitter Mike Sims to pop out and end the game.
"It got a little [scary] in the ninth, but we got it," said outfielder Eric Davis, who also drove in a run in the three-run ninth with his third hit of the game. "Being 4-0 is nice, better than 0-4, but we still haven't played as well as we can.
"Our bullpen is the big difference right now. It's just tremendous every night."
The Orioles rolled out the red carpet for Boskie, who took the mound for his Orioles debut with five runs on the scoreboard and the Rangers seemingly on the run.
Brady Anderson led off the game with an infield hit -- his ninth hit in 13 at-bats to open the season -- and Jerome Walton followed with a sharp single to right center in his first at-bat as an Oriole. That put Rangers starter Darren Oliver on the defensive in a hurry, and things would get a lot worse before they got better.
Rafael Palmeiro drove home the first Orioles run with a sacrifice fly and Ripken would bring home the second in similar fashion after Davis singled on the infield. Jeffrey Hammonds walked and Lenny Webster one-upped Walton with a two-run double in his first at-bat in an Orioles uniform. Jeff Reboulet brought home the fifth with a single to left, but was thrown out trying to take second on the throw home.
Webster, who also drove in the sixth Orioles run, has done nothing but validate the club's decision to sign him over the winter. He had a solid spring and endeared himself to both his manager and the pitching staff.
"He did a hell of a job this spring," manager Davey Johnson said. "He fit right in and he really swung the bat well. He's going to get a lot of big hits for us. I've always thought he was a quality receiver, but you never really know that much until you get him on your ballclub."
Boskie held the Rangers scoreless for two innings, but suffered through a painful third inning that prevented him from staying in the game long enough to qualify for the victory.
The Rangers scored four runs in the third, three on a long home run by reserve first baseman Lee Stevens, who is making nobody miss injured veteran Will Clark. He launched his second home run of the season into the Rangers' bullpen behind right-center field to pull Texas within a run.
The game was beginning to look a lot like the night before, only in reverse. The Rangers had taken a four-run lead in the first inning on Friday only to be overtaken in the middle innings. The Orioles were in danger of doing the same, but they picked up a run in the fifth and Johnson turned the game over to his red-hot bullpen.
Boskie lasted four innings and gave up four runs on four hits before giving way to Rhodes. Oliver worked four-plus innings and gave up six runs on seven hits and four walks.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: The Ballpark in Arlington
Time: 3: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: No TV/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Mike Mussina (19-11, 4.81 in '96) vs. Rangers' Roger Pavlik (15-8, 5.19 in '96)
Pub Date: 4/06/97