O's take mighty turn for better Pitching, revived bats lead to 20-7 run since July 21

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles slipped into Kauffman Stadium yesterday riding their most powerful wave of the season. Their 16-7 April established them as a first-place team but a recent run that began July 21 allowed them to avert a calamitous meltdown surrounding the All-Star break.

During the stretch the Orioles lost second baseman Roberto Alomar to the disabled list, inserted Rick Krivda into the rotation and emerged from a prolonged slump partially due to the awakening of recently acquired designated hitter Geronimo Berroa.

From July 21 through last night's split, the Orioles are 20-7. Dating to July 19, they haven't suffered consecutive losses thanks to an unprecedented run of pitching.

"There was a time when anything that could go wrong, would go wrong," said catcher Lenny Webster, one of the Game 1 heroes last night. "It just shows you what a crazy game this is. Things are breaking our way now and we're winning games. We can play better -- we will play better -- but we're still winning because everybody is contributing."

The Orioles emerged from a weekend sweep of the Anaheim Angels, overcoming a 7-1 deficit on Saturday, three errors and a 3-1 deficit Sunday, and knuckleballer Dennis Springer Monday.

"This is a team full of gamers," boasted Johnson, brandishing his ultimate compliment. "There's no quit in this team."

Ending with the second game of Friday's day-night doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners, the Orioles locked down opponents to five runs or fewer for 21 consecutive games.

Pitching has allowed the Orioles to become baseball's best road team. Their 42-22 road record includes a 13-5 mark away from Camden Yards in the last month. The Orioles haven't blown a save since July 5, two days before the All-Star break.

The revival roughly coincides with catcher Chris Hoiles' return from the disabled list July 18. Hoiles, who may have to undergo postseason surgery to fully repair his right medial collateral ligament, is hitting only .236 (17-for-72) since returning; however, the team has mended around him.

"I know what I've got, that's why I've got this little book," Johnson said, referring to his pitching log, including matchups.

Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller have maintained the integrity of the rotation by moderating the length of starts. Only three times has Johnson allowed a starter past 125 pitches as his primary focus remains on keeping the core of the staff healthy for October.

Of course, Johnson has been able to do so only because of unflagging confidence in his bullpen. Armando Benitez (.119), Jesse Orosco (.154) and Alan Mills (.158) ranked Nos. 1-3 in the league in opposing batting average with runners on base going into the doubleheader.

The Orioles averaged fewer than four runs per game in June. Their run production in August (5.2) trails July (5.3 per game), but they are hitting better as a team, reflected by a .279 average through 17 games. (They batted .267 in July and .251 in June.)

The Orioles (78-44) are 13-6 since losing Alomar to a groin pull. In his place, Jeff Reboulet has hit safely in 14 of 18 games with nine RBIs.

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff has been the silent engine behind the recent rise in production. Since July 21, Surhoff is hitting .303 with one home run and 18 RBIs in 99 at-bats. Despite an early 0-for-18 slide, Rafael Palmeiro has hit eight home runs with 20 RBIs in the span while Berroa awoke from a post-trade daze to drive in 19 runs in the 27-game span.

Pub Date: 8/20/97

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