With an encouraging outing by their indispensable pitching glue, Scott Kamieniecki, the Orioles again reminded the Minnesota Twins yesterday how their arms have made them a dominant team. Three home runs by the meat of their lineup suggested that they may still become a dangerous one.
The Orioles won't see the woebegone Twins again this season. What a shame. Their 5-1 beating before 47,643 at Camden Yards allowed them to cap their season series 10-1 against Minnesota while bumping their overall winning streak to five games and their lead over the New York Yankees to seven games. The Orioles have won nine of 10 and 22 of 28. For the first time since Aug. 26, 1979, they are 39 games over .500 (83-44) and must play only a game below .500 the rest of the way for 100 wins.
Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Geronimo Berroa homered against Twins starter LaTroy Hawkins (4-9) while Kamieniecki (9-5) emerged from a miserable appearance last Tuesday in Kansas City to improve to 3-0 over his past five starts.
Only a failure to hit in pivotal situations kept the game close enough for Armando Benitez to earn his ninth save with two scoreless innings. Otherwise, the game was free of suspense.
"A great catch in center field. A throw to home plate," manager Davey Johnson said of plays by Twins outfielders Darrin Jackson and Matt Lawton that cost the Orioles runs. "We should have won that game 8-1. Those are the games that scare you."
Breaking a 3-for-29 slump, Harold Baines narrowly missed giving the Orioles a fourth homer when his towering fourth-inning drive to right-center field bounced off the padding atop the fence for a double.
Six of the Orioles' nine hits went for extra bases and they struck out only three times. Anderson started the scoring with an opposite-field, two-out homer in the third, and Berroa finished it with a two-run pull shot in the fifth.
Maybe at long last the Orioles are ready to roll offensively. The middle of the lineup has begun to hit together, something unseen all season. Second baseman Roberto Alomar may return from the disabled list tomorrow.
"It's tough to grind it out, grind it out, grind it out. But that's what we've been doing," Johnson said. "I tip my hat to the perseverance of this ballclub. We've been through periods where a lot of guys were struggling. But when you can handle it when guys are struggling. That's a good sign."
Saturday's hero, Berroa homered for the second consecutive game and has 11 RBIs in his past eight games. The Orioles now see the up side of a free-swinging streak hitter. "He's invaluable. He's a thrill-a-minute, but he's invaluable," Johnson said.
Palmeiro extended his best run of the season with a fourth-inning home run that gave Kamieniecki a 2-1 lead he would never surrender. Palmeiro is now hitting .358 in his past 15 games and has five home runs in his past nine games.
Despite several uncharacteristic brownouts this year, Palmeiro continues to produce RBIs. Yesterday's home run gave him 29, and he again holds a commanding team lead with 86 RBIs. Palmeiro has 31 RBIs in his past 33 games.
"This is the best I've felt all year. By far," Palmeiro said.
Palmeiro has been jostled around in the lineup this year. &L; Recently he has been assigned the No. 5 hole ahead of Cal Ripken. Coincidentally, Palmeiro has emerged from a 2-for-37 funk at about the same time Ripken has gone on an offensive tear, lifting his average from .273 to .289. Ripken is hitting .386 during his past 21 games and hasn't suffered consecutive hitless games since July 21. B. J. Surhoff was the only member of the middle of the order not to contribute yesterday, but even an 0-for-4 left him at .366 with nine RBIs in his past 10 games.
"We're in a very enviable position. It's much better to be where we are than chasing the Yankees like we were last year," said Ripken, who turned 37 yesterday. "It seems like we've set up the season very well for the stretch run. It seems like our pitching staff has stayed very healthy. We've made sure our starters haven't gone too long. It really seems our arms have come to life. Our bullpen is fabulous. We played the first half of the season for the second half."
Yet the first half was played without the offensive fangs that shredded opponents last year. Now, the Orioles again show teeth.
After hitting below .270 for three consecutive months, the Orioles are batting .270 for August while scoring five runs a game. Twice in the past nine days, they've won games despite allowing nine runs.
"I think a lot of guys in here are trying to duplicate what they did last year," Kamieniecki said of a team that set a major-league record for home runs. "That was a once-in-a-career thing. Last year was out of necessity. This year, they don't have to do that. Sometimes it looks like they're going for the three-run homer when they don't have to do that."
Behind Kamieniecki, they needed only two runs yesterday as he continued to trivialize the theory that says he should be flagging at this juncture. Pitching the furthest into any season since 1993, Kamieniecki tied a career high with eight strikeouts in his 24th start, lowering his ERA to 4.03. In his past five starts, he is 3-0 with a 3.19 ERA, including his roughest outing this season.
Kamieniecki hasn't lost since July 25 and only once since June 27 but was a likely candidate for post-traumatic stress coming off Tuesday's calamitous outing in Kansas City. Starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Kamieniecki gave up seven runs and eight hits. The Orioles scored 12 runs -- eight in the first three innings -- but Kamieniecki lasted only 3 1/3 innings and failed to qualify for the win.
"I was just bad; I was awful," he recalled of the no-decision. "We got the big lead, and maybe I let down a little bit. Then I tried to get it back, and I couldn't get it back."
He had it back yesterday, making a slight adjustment that had him take the ball from his glove earlier in his delivery.
Allowing four hits in seven innings, Kamieniecki's only crime was a leadoff walk to Brent Brede in the fourth inning. Brede took second on Paul Molitor's single and scored on Jackson's two-out hit. The run temporarily tied the game at 1-1 before the Orioles answered with Palmeiro's home run and an RBI grounder by Lenny Webster. Ripken scored on Webster's ball when he slid beneath catcher Damian Miller's tag.
"When we signed him [as a free agent last winter] we figured we'd be overly abundant with starters," Johnson said of Kamieniecki. "As it turns out, we're still a little thin."
At least Kamieniecki has kept the cushion comfortable enough.
The Orioles have won nine of 10 games to boost their AL East lead to seven games for the first time since July 6. Here's how they've fared in 10 games since their edge over the New York Yankees was 3 1/2 games on Aug. 15.
.. .. .. .. .. .. ..O's.. .. .. ..Opp.
Runs/game .. .. .. .5.2 .. .. .. ..4.3
Batting avg... ... .278.. .. .... .254
Home runs .. .. .. ..12 .. .. .. .. .9
Errors .. .. .. .. ...3 .. .. .. .. .6
Starter ERA .. .. .5.14 .. .. .. .4.98
Relief ERA .. .. ..3.15 .. .. .. .4.76
Aside from a start on three days' rest Aug. 19, Scott Kamieniecki has allowed only one run per start his last five times out, pitching to a 3.19 ERA:
Date .. Opp. .. .. IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. .SO .. .. .Res
8/24 .. Minn .. .. .7 .. ..4 .. ...1 .. ..8 .. .W, 5-1
8/19 ...K.C. .. .. .3 1/3 .. .8 .. ...7 .. ..0 .. .. ..ND
8/15 ...Sea. .. .. .7 .. ..5 .. ...1 .. ..7 .. .W, 4-3
8/9 .. .Ana. .. .. .7 .. ..3 .. ...1 .. ..7 .. .. ..ND
7/30 ...Tex. .. .. .6 2/3 .. .3 .. ...1 .. ..6 .. .W, 3-1
Tot. .. .. .. .. ..31 .. .23 .. ..11 .. .28 .. .. .3-0
Pub Date: 8/25/97