The Dude is back. Or at least he's getting closer.
Six weeks of undertow finally let go of Brady Anderson last night. Six weeks of soreness, frustration and a batting average so small an electron microscope was needed for a viewfinder. In an encouraging 8-1 pounding of the problematic Cleveland Indians, Anderson finally rode a wave.
The Orioles center fielder entered with an .074 average and only two extra-base hits. He left with two bases-empty home runs, an .096 average and the first positive reinforcement from a season with no give. The multi-homer game was Anderson's first since Sept. 2, 1996.
Anderson's breakout coincided with shortstop Mike Bordick's first three-hit game this season. Roberto Alomar smacked a triple and a double in the first three innings, pushing the Orioles to an early 5-1 lead against Indians starter Chad Ogea (1-2). Anderson's second home run bumped the lead to 6-1 in the fourth inning, allowing Doug Drabek (3-4) to glide for his third consecutive positive outing.
Tuesday night, Anderson halted an 0-for-27 free fall with a double in Minnesota. Last night, he began the game with a home run for the 28th time in his career, this one to right field, nearly reaching Eutaw Street.
Anderson owns three hits, all for extra bases, in his past nine at-bats. He managed only four hits in his first 64 at-bats.
"It's pretty exciting, and it's not just the home run," said manager Ray Miller, whose team improved to 20-18. "He's been working real hard. He had that look in his eyes like two days ago. He's got that swagger when he stands on top of home plate and he looks you right in the eye and says, 'Let's go.' It's fun to see because that takes the pressure off everybody else."
Two days ago, Miller dropped Anderson to seventh in the lineup, driving the leadoff hitter to silence. Last night, he made his most noise since returning from a strained sternoclavicular ligament that sidelined him April 20.
Swinging comfortably for the first time this season, Anderson finally resembled the hitter who moved the Orioles to sign him to a five-year, $31 million contract last December.
"I think I improved a little bit tonight," Anderson said. "It's tough when you haven't faced live pitching in two weeks and haven't swung a bat in 10 days. I didn't feel good in the box when I first got back."
His comfort zone grew against Ogea. What might have been his third hit became a double play when Bell took his one-hop smash in the sixth inning. It was only Anderson's second double play in two seasons.
JTC "I never really got that frustrated," Anderson said. "Sometimes I guess I was disappointed in myself, but I knew I'd just have to ride it out. It was another challenge. I guess it was another way to torture myself: See how deep a hole I can dig for myself."
After Anderson's first homer, Jeffrey Hammonds walked and scored on a triple to right by Alomar, batting in his third different spot in the order in as many days. The triple was only the Orioles' second in 1,259 at-bats. Alomar then scored to make it 3-0 when Rafael Palmeiro's pop to shallow right became an adventure for second baseman David Bell and right fielder Manny Ramirez. Ramirez made a lunging catch, but Alomar scored without a throw, giving Palmeiro a 140-foot sacrifice fly.
The Orioles eventually extended their consecutive-inning streak with at least one hit to 18, running up a 6-1 lead along the way.
The Indians mashed 20 runs in two games against the Orioles last week but managed only mild resistance against Drabek, who continued his return from the pitching dead by giving Miller a third straight serviceable start. Drabek contained a volatile lineup that had smashed 17 hits in a Scott Erickson start May 6.
The only dent: Travis Fryman's fourth home run, the eighth surrendered by Drabek in as many starts.
Anderson's defense preserved the outing's luster. With two on and two out in the sixth, Ramirez drove a Drabek fastball to dead center. The ball hung, allowing Anderson to retreat to the warning track, where he made a leaping catch against the wall. Drabek lingered outside the home dugout, waiting for Anderson to arrive.
A moment of thanks from Drabek. A moment of satisfaction for The Dude.
"This is a big-screen TV compared to a kitchen 10-inch," said Drabek. "Now that you've got a couple good games together, you can start feeding off of stuff instead of constantly trying to figure things out."
Drabek yielded to Norm Charlton after seven innings, his longest start since April 3. In his past three starts, Drabek is 2-0 on a 3.00 ERA, an encouraging turnaround from his past four April starts, which resulted in four losses and 20 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.
Bordick's homer in the eighth gave the Orioles 28 in their past 15 games. They have homered in all 15, leaving them only two shy of the club consecutive-games homer record.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Indians' Charles Nagy (3-2, 5.79) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (4-2, 2.01)
% Tickets: 5,300 remain
Pub Date: 5/14/98