For a rotation suffocating under the weight of its misfortune, the Orioles' Doug Drabek has been a blast of fresh air. Last night, he breathed more life into a club that was left for dead back in New York.
Coming off his first complete game in almost two years, Drabek shackled baseball's most imposing offense, holding the Texas Rangers to two runs while pitching into the eighth inning in a 5-2 victory before 42,294 at Camden Yards. It was the Orioles' fourth win in five games and hoisted them out of last place in the AL East.
Catcher Lenny Webster drove in three runs for the Orioles (24-28). Roberto Alomar collected three hits, scored three runs and had his first multi-steal game in more than a year. Jesse Orosco recorded his third save. But Drabek consumed most of the spotlight.
With Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key on the disabled list and Scott Kamieniecki's status uncertain because of a stiff neck, Drabek's value to the Orioles has risen considerably. The No. 5 starter coming out of spring training, he has joined Scott Erickson as the anchors of the staff.
He sailed through the first four innings last night, allowing only one hit and retiring 11 in a row. The Rangers got to him in the fifth, a two-out double by Fernando Tatis off the scoreboard in right scoring Will Clark, but he slipped back into a groove until Tatis led off the eighth by lining a home run on a full count.
It brought manager Ray Miller from the dugout. Orosco was summoned, and Drabek left to a standing ovation, touching the bill of his cap as he reached the dugout steps and tapped fists with Eric Davis.
"One thing I'm doing now is just throwing more strikes, especially early on," he said. "I made a little change in my delivery as far as the windup part of it, trying to get a little more relaxed body motion to it. And I think it's helped as far as being able to get some movement back in some pitches."
This was no ordinary lineup Drabek had in his clutches. The Rangers (31-20) led the majors with 319 runs scored before last night. Seven of their active position players were hitting .300 or better. And they pounded the Orioles for 41 hits in a three-game series in Arlington last month.
Worse, Orioles starters lasted just 11 1/3 innings, allowing 26 hits and 18 earned runs. Drabek wasn't included in the carnage, though, and he's 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers, including seven shutout innings in his only appearance last year.
He permitted seven hits last night, struck out five and didn't walk a batter for the second consecutive start. He hasn't issued more than one walk since April 20.
Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds helped limit the damage against Drabek in the fifth by leaping in full stride to corral a long drive by shortstop Domingo Cedeno with two on and one out. Tatis followed with his run-scoring double, but Drabek retired speedster Tom Goodwin on a grounder.
"Right now he's throwing very comfortable, using all four pitches," Miller said. "That's a very tough lineup and he had a lot of guys befuddled, taking fastballs and jumping at breaking balls."
With trade rumors and criticism swirling around him, Alomar had his first three-hit game since May 5 in Cleveland. Sensing that Alomar was embarrassed by some recent newspaper articles that questioned his desire to remain in Baltimore and play hard, Miller said he "stepped up big time" last night.
"I just want to play the game of baseball," Alomar said. "Today, we had fun out there. Hopefully we can continue to win. That's the most important thing to me. Hopefully the negative stuff will go away.
"The [rumors] haven't been difficult for me. They've been difficult for everybody. This is a team. This is not only one or two guys. We have to stick together. I would love to [stay with the Orioles], but it's not in my hands. I'm just playing my game. I'm going to try to have fun and whatever happens, happens. But I'm real happy here. The fans have treated me real well and I would love to be a Baltimore Oriole. Right now I am, and that's all I'm worried about."
Alomar and B. J. Surhoff singled to open the second inning, and Alomar stole third without a throw from Rangers catcher Bill Haselman. Miller put on the hit-and-run with Cal Ripken up and the count 3-1, but he flew to shallow right field. Webster followed with a slow bouncer to Tatis, whose throw to second forced Surhoff but was too wide for Mark McLemore to attempt a relay as Alomar scored.
The Orioles had the green light last night with Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez scratched from the lineup because of a bruised chest, the result of a plate collision Wednesday against Minnesota.
Alomar swiped another base in the sixth inning, his first multi-steal game since May 11, 1997, against Seattle. Then he advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Ripken's single to right that increased the lead to 4-1 and chased Texas starter Bobby Witt (4-3).
"We've talked to [Witt] about standing there and holding the ball while Alomar is on base. He has to step off," said Texas manager Johnny Oates. "Alomar has great instincts and just takes off and runs. He did that last year twice on Bobby."
LTC Settling nicely into the No. 5 spot in the order, Alomar also had been in the thick of a two-run fourth inning. He walked with one out and took second on a Surhoff liner off the glove of Cedeno. Miller put both runners in motion as Ripken grounded to second, and they came home on a single by Webster, who was making his 25th start, one fewer than Chris Hoiles.
Alomar's third hit came in the seventh inning, a two-out single off reliever Scott Bailes that would have produced another run if Hammonds hadn't been thrown out trying to steal third. Hammonds had bumped the lead to 5-1 with a double that scored Brady Anderson, who led off with his second triple of the year.
Coupled with Tampa Bay's loss, the Orioles were able to move into fourth place, though they remain 14 1/2 games behind the Yankees and six behind second-place Boston.
"We'll play them one at a time," Miller said. "Once we run off 20 in a row, then I'll get excited."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Aaron Sele (8-2, 2.57) vs. Orioles' Doug Johns (0-1, 3.80)
% Tickets: 1,500 remain
After an 0-4 skid with an 11.74 ERA, Doug Drabek has won four of his past five decisions, posting a 3.32 ERA over that span and
not issuing more than one walk since April 20.
Date .. .. ..Opp. .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER
5-1 .. .. ...Min (W) ...6 .. ..7 .. ...3
5-8 .. .. ...TB (ND) ...5 .. ..4 .. ...2
5-13 .. .. ..Cle (W) ...7 .. ..5 .. ...1
5-18 .. .. ..TB (L) .. .4 .. ..6 .. ...5
5-23 .. .. ..Oak (W) ...9 .. ..4 .. ...1
5-28 .. .. ..Tex (W) ...7 .. ..7 .. ...2
Tot .. .. .. .. .. . ..38 .. .33 .. ..14
Pub Date: 5/29/98