Less than perfect, starter Jimmy Key again was good enough to survive six innings without allowing a base runner to reach third. No longer considered a health question, he became the major leagues' first six-game winner while spearheading a four-man suffocation of a timid Angels attack.
Key's subtle dominance continues to grow, especially at Camden Yards. So far, the refugee from last year's world champions is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in his new digs.
"Physically, if I can stay healthy I know I can figure out how to give my team a chance to win. I feel great right now. I think from a physical standpoint I've gotten through some of these games whereas last year in New York I may not have been able to," said Key, who won only three games through June last season while recovering from shoulder surgery.
"My arm is not a question. I know that. I can go out and concentrate on things I have to do."
Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez and Randy Myers covered the last three innings. Myers picked up his 13th save in 14 opportunities. Last night's was his first three-run save this year.
The Orioles' 21-9 start is the second-best in franchise history, one behind their opening 30 games (22-8) in 1970. Like the 1970 team, this club can compensate for a power outage with pitching. Last night's was their third shutout in the past 12 games and fifth overall. They had one last season.
Nothing is won in April and May with the possible exception of an altered reputation. Again, the Orioles won when their offense struggled. Pitching and defense are rapidly becoming as much a trademark as home run power. Their team ERA shrunk to 3.50, again best in the league.
"To tell you the truth, I'd rather be in there with four- and five-run leads," said Myers, who has appeared in only one non-save situation, a tie game. "It seems like some nights one or two of our hitters aren't locked in. When they're all on, it's a good game."
Last night, B. J. Surhoff saw his 14-game hitting streak perish. Rafael Palmeiro went hitless, extending his slide to 0-for-19.
But for the ninth time, they scratched a victory with four runs or fewer. Allen Watson (1-3) allowed fewer base runners in one more inning than Key, but was hurt by two extra-base hits.
Assessing his starting pitcher, manager Davey Johnson was blunt in his praise. "He didn't have good stuff and didn't have good location. He was all over the place. It was a struggle for him. I'd seen enough after six," Johnson said.
Typically, Key leaves his pitches high when his control slips. Last night, he wandered too far over the strike zone but kept his pitches down. He struck out only one and walked three yet left the game having lowered his ERA to 1.93 -- second in the league to Roger Clemens' 1.58 -- and with a scoreless streak of 13 innings.
In his career, Key is 85-58 at home, whether in Toronto, New York or Baltimore. Overall, he is 9-1 in 10 starts at Camden Yards with a 1.66 ERA.
One night after Scott Erickson extended the best start of his career, Key did the same. Over its past nine games, the rotation has allowed only 15 earned runs in 56 innings. Just as importantly, the Orioles played error-free for the eighth time in 10 games.
"It's May. There are a lot of games to be played and injuries to happen," said Key. "This team is a veteran club. Guys know how to play. That's what I like about this team. We're not going to go away."
Not that it will stay this easy.
"We're going to go through a bad spell; every team does," Key said. "But we've got the guys to weather the storms. I'm not saying we're going to win anything yet. But we're going to have to be reckoned with at the end."
The win was slightly tainted by the probable loss of right fielder Eric Davis for this weekend's series against Seattle. Typically, he injured himself while performing the spectacular.
With Brady Anderson at second base after a first-inning single and steal, Davis lined a double into shallow left field. Anderson scored easily but Davis pulled his right hamstring after cutting first base. He limped the last 30 feet to second base. Tony Tarasco replaced him and scored on Cal Ripken's two-out single.
However, even after the Orioles had completed their seventh win in nine games, Johnson was left to sort his losses.
"[Roberto] Alomar's sore. [Jeffrey] Hammonds I don't know what his status is. I'm going to see who I want to play and then I'll see who I've got to play. We'll show up," Johnson promised.
Not all the good news involved Key. Benitez, sandwiched between Orosco and Myers, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. His role will be magnified this weekend against a Mariners lineup loaded with right-handed power.
To compound the challenge, the Mariners were rained out in Chicago last night, bumping back staff ace Randy Johnson and his 16-game winning streak to tonight against Mike Mussina.
This weekend looms as the biggest challenge to the Orioles' run. They have captured seven series, lost none and split five this year.
The Orioles received all the offense they needed during a two-run first inning and from Chris Hoiles' fourth home run in the fourth inning.
It was Hoiles' first homer since April 24 and extended a bizarre string of success when catching Key. The home run was his third with Key pitching. Another hit bumped his average to .444. Hoiles has scored nine of his 15 runs during Key's starts.
The cushion was enough for Key, although he was not quite the efficient machine who allowed only five base runners in his May 2 eight-inning start against Oakland. The Angels managed runners each of the first six innings but never pushed one to third.
Key benefited from a double play to escape the third inning and got Gary DiSarcina to ground out with two on in the fourth.
His wild pitch pushed Luis Alicea into scoring position with two outs in the fifth, but he retired Dave Hollins to end the inning.
After allowing a leadoff single to Jim Leyritz in the sixth, Key again received outstanding support. Running on a 3-2 pitch, Leyritz became the back end of a double play when Tim Salmon struck out.
"He was on the ropes. It could've been first and second, no outs. Instead, it was two outs, none on," said Johnson, who thought it was the night's biggest play.
Last night's victory over the Angels prevented the Orioles from losing a series for the first time this year. How they've fared in series this year:
Opponent .......... Result
Kansas City ....... Won, 2-0
at Texas .......... Won, 2-1
at Kansas City .... Split, 1-1
Texas ............. Won, 2-0
Minnesota ......... Won, 2-0
at Chicago ........ Split, 1-1
at Boston ......... Split, 1-1
Chicago ........... Split, 1-1
Boston ............ Split, 2-2
at Minnesota ...... Won, 3-0
Oakland ........... Won, 2-1
Anaheim ........... Won, 2-1
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Oriole Park
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Randy Johnson (4-0, 2.41) vs. O's Mike Mussina (3-1, 3.99)
Tickets: 3,700 remain
Pub Date: 5/08/97