ARLINGTON, Texas -- Utility player Jeff Reboulet was not part of the new-look Orioles lineup. He wasn't even a consideration. But after the club managed just two runs through 11 innings last night, he became a hero.
Reboulet, who entered the game as a late-inning replacement for shortstop Mike Bordick, slapped an RBI single down the right-field line with one out in the top of the 12th inning to propel the Orioles to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers and complete a three-game sweep at The Ballpark in Arlington.
It was a quarter past midnight when designated hitter Geronimo Berroa opened the 12th with a walk. He stole second base and advanced to third on Chris Hoiles' fly ball to right field. Reboulet then poked a bouncer inside first baseman Will Clark to bring home the tie-breaking run and send reliever Danny Patterson to his fourth loss in 10 decisions.
"It feels good to contribute," Reboulet said. "I'm known as more of a defensive guy, but you just try to get the hits when they're important and I was able to do that tonight."
Closer Randy Myers gave up a leadoff double to Mark McLemore in the bottom of the 12th but worked out of the jam to get the win and improve his record to 2-3. He walked Juan Gonzalez intentionally, then got Clark on a sinking liner to left to end it. Clark dropped to 3-for-26 lifetime against Myers, with 12 strikeouts.
More importantly, the Orioles again went victory for victory with the New York Yankees to maintain their 3 1/2 -game lead in the American League East.
"I said while we were at home that good teams go through some bumps," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're still the same team that won seven of 10 games for three months. We're not panicking. I think we played good, we pitched good and we hit good."
Still, the Rangers had a golden opportunity to win it in the 10th when outfielder Rusty Greer tripled into the gap in right-center with one out, but Armando Benitez worked out of trouble by striking out 1996 AL MVP Gonzalez and -- after an intentional walk to Clark -- getting third baseman Dean Palmer on a routine fly ball to right.
Rangers manager Johnny Oates, whose team fell a season-high 8 1/2 games behind the AL West-leading Seattle Mariners, declined to talk to reporters after the game, but catcher Ivan Rodriguez said it was definitely a difficult loss.
"We could have won the game, but what can you do? It's over. But we've got to start playing well," Rodriguez said.
The Orioles won the battle of the bullpens, but the original pitching matchup ended in a draw. Right-hander Mike Mussina turned in eight strong innings, giving up two runs on five hits, but is still winless in July. Rangers starter Bobby Witt also pitched well for seven innings, before giving way to to a parade of relief pitchers.
"Basically, we got some timely hitting, some heady pitching performances and everybody contributed," Johnson said. "That's typical of the play we normally get. We got through a tough part of our schedule, and we weathered a little slump."
Johnson's newly reconfigured lineup did not break out of the gate as it did the night before, but there was one similarity. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro gave the Orioles the lead with a two-out, bases-empty home run in the first inning -- his third of the series and 21st of the year.
Palmeiro homered to bring the Orioles from behind in the series opener on Monday night and cranked a two-run shot in the first inning of the club's early onslaught on Tuesday night. His two-out, bases-empty drive down the right-field line last night was his eighth career homer at the 3 1/2 -year-old ballpark, tying Ken Griffey for the most by an opposing player.
It did not, however, signal another offensive eruption. Witt collected himself and worked into the fifth before the Orioles could nick him again. They finally pushed across another run with three straight hits in the fifth, the last a run-scoring single by streaking Jeffrey Hammonds.
Hammonds came into the game with six hits in 10 at-bats since Johnson moved him into the No. 2 slot in the batting order, including four hits in Tuesday night's lopsided victory. He went hitless in his first two at-bats last night, but bounced a hit up the middle to drive home Bordick and expand Mussina's slim lead to two runs. It would be Hammonds' only hit of the night.
Mussina didn't look like he was going to need much help. He gave up just one hit through the first four innings and was not made to suffer for some uncharacteristic early wildness, but the Rangers finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth when designated hitter Lee Stevens hit a home run over the Texas bullpen in right-center field.
Two outs later, McLemore lined a double to left-center and shortstop Domingo Cedeno tied the game by hitting a single to center.
The top three starters in the Orioles' rotation arrived in Texas without a victory among them dating to July 3, but Jimmy Key rectified that with a strong performance on Monday night and Scott Erickson made it two straight wins with a resourceful -- if rocky -- performance on Tuesday night.
The 18-day drought coincided with a decided downturn in offensive consistency. The club seemed to snap out of it with five late-inning runs Monday and the early-inning assault on Tuesday, but Mussina remained on the outside looking in at the offensive renaissance when the Orioles remained stuck on two runs well into the late innings.
"It's no secret that we've had a tough go of it," Reboulet said, "but every team goes through that. Our pitching has been good. It was important to do well here with our three big guys going."
Give Witt a little credit. He pitched seven solid innings, giving up two runs on eight hits and striking out four before turning the XTC game over to the bullpen, but he never was in line for his 11th victory.
Left-hander Eric Gunderson came on to get four outs and closer John Wetteland took over with one out in the ninth.
Jeffrey Hammonds has been productive recently, coinciding with the Orioles' winning four of five games. How he's fared in those games:
Date, Opp, H-AB, RBI, 2B, 3B, HR
7/19, Chi., 2-4, 1, 1, 0, 1
7/20, Chi., 1-4, 0, 0, 0, 0
7/21, Tex., 2-5, 1, 0, 1, 0
7/22, Tex., 4-5, 1, 2, 0, 0
7/23, Tex., 1-6, 1, 0, 0, 0
Total, ...10-24, 4, 3, 1, 1
Pub Date: 7/24/97