Given three hits by little-used second baseman Jeff Reboulet and the first win by fourth starter Scott Kamieniecki in more than a month, the Orioles completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers with an encouraging 3-1 decision at Camden Yards.
While trying to make themselves better, the Orioles are again reminding the American League how good they can be.
The win topped a season-long domination of last year's American League West champions, including a pair of
three-game sweeps in the past 10 days. The Orioles' 10-1 record is their best ever against the Rangers. "What goes around comes around a little payback," manager Davey Johnson said, referring to the Orioles' 3-10 record against the Rangers last season.
"Last year, the trademark of this ballclub was we couldn't compete with the good clubs, the Yankees and Texas," he added. "One of the things we wanted to do over the winter, which the organization did a great job of, was to put a club together where we could compete with those clubs."
The Orioles are the rare team talented enough to be judged against themselves. They are 21-19 since June 15 after a 45-19 start. The comparison suggests a club in decline, but the past 10 days say something else. Tuesday's trade for designated hitter Harold Baines and the search for another starter belie complacency. The Orioles have won five straight, nine of 11 and stand a season-high 28 games over .500 for the first time since July 4, the day before the beginning of a six-game losing streak.
"Even when we weren't playing well and the Yankees were gaining ground, we weren't worried about the Yankees, we were frustrated about ourselves," said catcher Lenny Webster. "Hey, no matter what happens. We're going to have to deal with them later. We've just got to take care of ourselves now."
Yesterday's performance represented April in July. Solid pitching combined with a precise defense and just enough hitting.
Kamieniecki pitched 6 2/3 innings for his first win since June 22. The infield defense was put to good use.
Again given leads, the bullpen is still the bullpen. Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez and Randy Myers combined for 2 1/3 hitless innings. Myers pitched an uneventful ninth for his 30th save, the sixth 30-save season of his career.
"They don't get the publicity of the Yankees' bullpen last year, but I think they're better. They're deeper than the Yankees were last year. Alan Mills is the fifth guy, and he'd be the closer on a lot of teams," said Rangers manager Johnny Oates.
Kamieniecki (7-5) carried the game to them. He allowed three hits or fewer for the third time this season and consistently worked down in the strike zone. He yielded only one fly-ball out.
Kamieniecki entered his 20th start having surrendered 15 runs and 32 hits in 21 1/3 innings over his previous four starts, none of them wins. His ERA stood at 6.32 since the All-Star break. Offered offensive support during the team's prolonged slump, he had failed to receive a decision when the Orioles scored eight and 10 runs.
More disturbing, his performance had given rise to questions about his durability as he entered a phase of the season unseen since 1993.
The Orioles possess the league's best ERA but are determined to improve their starting pitching, possibly turning to the Montreal Expos for Jeff Juden. Reason: They are terrified that an injury to Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina or Scott Erickson will expose their thin resources. A trade would provide insurance -- and possible exile to the bullpen for Kamieniecki.
"I have no control over that. If they want to go get another pitcher, where that leaves me I don't know. I'll sit back and do my job, whether they put me in the pen or let me go," Kamieniecki said. "All I can do is get myself ready for my next start, wherever that might be."
Offensively, the Orioles did much with a little. They managed only six hits against Rangers starter John Burkett (7-10) and Ed Vosberg. Reboulet gave them three, including two doubles.
Down 1-0, Reboulet ignited a two-run fourth inning with a one-out single. Newcomer designated hitter Harold Baines walked with two outs, Cal Ripken was hit on the right elbow to load the bases and Geronimo Berroa followed with a two-out single to right-center, scoring Reboulet and Baines. Berroa has hit in 15 of 18 games since a brutal beginning with his new team.
Reboulet has seven extra-base hits in the past 10 games in which he has batted. Only last Wednesday he beat the Rangers with a 12th-inning single. His successes haven't raised his expectations.
Reboulet has sat while Alomar batted left-handed against left-handed pitching. Scheduled to start Tuesday at shortstop, he was scratched late so Mike Bordick could play in front of his mother. "It is tough, and you're not going to make millions of dollars for it. But I consider it an important part of the job, an important part of winning," he said.
Reboulet eventually entered Tuesday's game when Alomar pulled his groin running out a sixth-inning bunt. Barring an unforeseen trade, he will remain in the lineup until Alomar returns from the disabled list during the next homestand.
"The bench is coming more into play. Robbie has been hurt off and on all year, and Reboulet's done a great job subbing for him. He's got a lot of key hits. He hasn't necessarily hit for average, but he's made great defensive plays and gotten a lot of key hits," Johnson said.
"I'm not on pace to get the at-bats I had [last year] in Minnesota, but I'm not playing with the same guys," Reboulet said. "It's a different team. I'm adjusting to that role a little bit. I'm starting to do better at it. It just so happens in the last week I've gotten some at-bats, and that's why today came easier.
"That's just the way it is. Sometimes you're swinging good, sometimes you're not when you don't get to play a lot."
Kamieniecki offered nothing special early. A dazzling play by Reboulet against leadoff hitter Tom Goodwin kept the bases clear until Rusty Greer drove Berroa into the right-field wall for a two-out double. Kamieniecki escaped by getting Juan Gonzalez for the first of three times with runners on base.
The Rangers broke through in the second inning thanks to Kamieniecki's sloppiest work of the game. Will Clark singled and took second when catcher Ivan Rodriguez was hit in the left hand. Rodriguez, the subject of a trade swirl, left the game for a pinch runner. Warren Newson then flared a single in front of a slow-reacting Berroa, loading the bases. The Rangers never got another ball out of the infield; however, they scored when Kamieniecki walked Goodwin on five pitches.
The Rangers never threatened again as they pushed only one runner into scoring position.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 10: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key (13-6, 2.60 ERA) vs. Athletics' Jimmy Haynes (0-1, 4.15 ERA)
Pub Date: 7/31/97