In last night's tell-all sixth inning against the same team he once embraced, Rafael Palmeiro further suggested that he has rediscovered his offensive rhythm, and the Orioles rocked along with him.
Palmeiro pierced the Orioles' 13-hit breakout and shattered a tie game by lining the second pitch he saw from Bobby Witt over the right-field scoreboard for a three-run homer. More than another trophy against a franchise that once rejected him, Palmeiro's shot served as a catalyst in the Orioles' 7-2 win over the fast-fading Texas Rangers they have now beaten in eight of nine tries.
The Orioles served further notice their offensive stupor may be ending. Following up Sunday's 9-0 win over Minnesota, every starter hit safely. They slammed five extra-base hits -- including a two-run homer by Roberto Alomar (4-for-5) -- and made the Rangers' two-run first inning irrelevant.
The pounding before 47,627 benefited starter Mike Mussina (11-4), who won for the first time since June 30.
The win was only the Orioles' fourth in their last 11 games at Camden Yards. A game that had some crazy perch precariously atop the 64-foot high left-field foul pole ended with Armando Benitez dancing from the mound with his eighth save after recording the last four outs on strikeouts. The era of good feeling may be on its way back.
Though still below .500 since sweeping Atlanta June 13-15, the Orioles have re-emerged. They've hit nine home runs in their last seven games, five by Palmeiro.
The rotation has regained its bearings and the bottom of the lineup has grown teeth.
"It's how you really handle some adversity that shows how much glue you've got on the ballclub," said manager Davey Johnson. "As far as I'm concerned, everybody kept fighting. At times, zTC when you go through tough times like we did, you can self-destruct. We didn't come close to that."
Johnson's newfangled lineup has coincided with the offensive reawakening. With Brady Anderson backing him, Palmeiro again represents a menace.
"It seems like it's different [from last year] but it's probably not," Palmeiro said. "The difference is I'm missing more when I get good pitches to hit than last year. I got pitched around a little bit, but it seemed like when I got a good pitch to hit, I hit it."
At .268, Palmeiro has yet to reconstruct an average ravaged by a .206 June, his worst month as an Oriole. More selective, he has long since slipped a prolonged slump and corresponding power slide that trapped him with strikeouts and limp fly balls. Palmeiro's home run gives him five in his last seven games and extended his hitting streak to seven games.
No opponent ignites Palmeiro more than the Rangers. He still lives in the Dallas area after spending five seasons with the Rangers. Palmeiro was allowed to leave the club as a free agent after a 1993 season in which he slammed 37 homers and drove in 105 runs. That the Rangers replaced him with Will Clark, more a rival than a teammate while the two were at Mississippi State, only added irritant. Palmeiro has since wasted few opportunities to exact revenge. Last night's home run was his sixth of the season and fourth in his last four games against Texas.
Since 1994, Palmeiro has given the Orioles 124 home runs and 391 RBIs. Clark has given the Rangers 53 homers and 287 RBIs.
"He likes to hit against Texas. I guess it's a little payback, I don't care what anybody says," Johnson said.
Palmeiro downplays the angle, though he has hit 13 home runs against the Rangers in four seasons with the Orioles. Palmeiro is batting .364 with 16 RBIs in 33 at-bats this season.
"I feel good right now. I can't look at yesterday or the day before. It's how I feel today," he said.
He guessed right in the sixth inning against Witt, recalling a pitch that had enticed him to ground into a double play in the first.
"He was probably going to come down and in a little bit, like he did the first at-bat. He got it up a little bit," Palmeiro said.
Palmeiro lifted it farther, over the right-field scoreboard that serves as repository for most of his Camden power. Suddenly a pitchers' duel was broken open.
For Mussina, the win was well-deserved. Still in search of his first 20-win campaign, he has pitched consistently all season but has received uneven offensive support. His 10 wins before the All-Star break included seven supported by seven or more runs. However, since the break he had pitched eight innings twice, registered 14 and eight strikeouts in two of four starts, allowed less than a hit per inning, yet emerged without a win.
Mussina controlled the Rangers July 23, surrendering five hits and two runs in eight innings before leaving with a no decision.
"To me, he should already have 15 or 16 wins," said pitching coach Ray Miller.
"It had been awhile since I had won, but it wasn't like I pitched terribly," Mussina said. " It seemed longer because the All-Star break was in there and that stretches it out a little longer. You just have to keep going out there and working. You know the guys are going to come around and we were going to get hot."
Having now lost 10 of 15, the Rangers arrived trying to convince management they are still contenders. Last week's trade of Dean Palmer to Kansas City for rabbit outfielder Tom Goodwin served as one jolt. The firm negotiating stance toward pending free agent Ivan Rodriguez serves as another.
They started, and finished, early against Mussina. Goodwin walked to begin the game then became only the fifth player to steal successfully against the right-hander this season. Goodwin trotted home when left fielder Rusty Greer extended his career numbers against Mussina with a home run to right-center field.
After ending the first two innings with double plays, the Orioles evened the game in the third thanks to a two-out rally involving Mike Bordick and Alomar.
Thanks partly to dropping Geronimo Berroa into the No. 7 spot in the order, the return of No. 8 hitter Chris Hoiles and the offensive revival of Bordick, the Orioles no longer offer a ready place for a pitcher to hide. Bordick's two-out hit gave him hits in 10 of his last 11 games. After a day off, Alomar batted leadoff in his fifth straight game. He had pounded four hits in Witt's last start and began another four-hit night by slicing Witt's fastball to left-center field for his 10th home run.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Ken Hill (5-8, 5.19) vs. Orioles' Rick Krivda (1997 debut) Tickets: 350 remain.
Eager for August
July hasn't been kind to the Orioles' Mike Mussina, who won his first game last night despite several quality starts:
Date .. ..Opp. .. ...IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..Res
7/28 .. ..Tex. .. .. .7 .. ..6 .. ...2 ..W, 7-2
7/23 .. ..Tex. .. .. .8 .. ..5 .. ...2 .. ...ND
7/18 .. ..Chi. .. .. .8 .. ..7 .. ...2 .L, 3-0
7/13 .. ..Mil. .. .. .6 1/3 .. .8 .. ...5 ..L, 6-4
7/5 .. ...Det. .. .. .7 .. ..6 .. ...4 .. ...ND
But if his performance last season is any indication, he will bounce back to have a strong August. How Mussina fared in each month last season:
April .. ..3-2 4.03 .. ..July 2-3 5.10
May .. .. .4-0 5.40 .. ..Aug 5-1 3.77
June .. ...3-3 5.87 .. ..Sp-Oc 2-2 4.91
Pub Date: 7/29/97