There probably aren't enough games left in Doug Linton's career to remove the tag of journeyman pitcher. It's there for good, as if attached by unbreakable threads. But he can look back on yesterday and give it a good tug.
Used again as an emergency fill-in, Linton applied the reverse-lock theory by winning a game that seemed out of his reach. He gave the Orioles seven quality innings and the bullpen a much-desired reprieve in a 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians before 47,095 at Camden Yards.
For Linton, 34, the win was his first in the majors since Sept. 11, 1996 while pitching for the Kansas City Royals. For the Orioles (61-74), it broke a streak of eight consecutive losses to the Indians dating back to last season.
Linton (1-2) was making his fifth start with the Orioles this season. He had allowed 10 hits in each of the last two, along with a combined nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. Yesterday, he was sent out to face the team with the American League's best record, against a pitcher -- Bartolo Colon (15-5) -- who had lost only once in nine decisions since the break.
Advantage Cleveland? Only on paper. Linton gave up four hits and walked two. The only run off him scored on a double-play ball in the second inning. He retired the side in three of his last four innings, departing with his pitch count at 96 and feeling strong enough to continue.
He tried to convince manager Ray Miller to stay with him, but to no avail. Instead, three relievers closed out the win, with Mike Timlin recording his 10th consecutive save after Harold Baines flew to the warning track in center.
"It's Ray's decision," Linton said. "I told him I could go out there. 'Let me get the first guy.' But he said, 'No, that's enough.' The bullpen came in and cleaned up the game."
Not that he had left much of a mess.
"He made the pitches when he had to," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "He kept us off-balance. When we hit it hard, we hit it to the biggest part of the field. Colon pitched well enough to win. So did Linton."
Mike Bordick tied the game in the third with a two-out double that scored Ryan Minor, his fifth RBI in two games. The Orioles moved ahead for good in the sixth when B. J Surhoff walked with one out, advanced on a single by Albert Belle and scored when Jeff Conine poked a double over the head of right-fielder Manny Ramirez, who took a bad angle on the ball and couldn't catch up.
Rookie Jerry Hairston, who had been recalled from Triple-A Rochester before the game, lined a single off Colon's right leg to bring in Belle, setting up the Orioles' fourth win in six games.
Linton got through the seventh with some help from Eugene Kingsale, another Rochester import who made consecutive lunging catches on the warning track in right-center field -- each time using his speed to compensate for a faulty compass. Linton then sat in the dugout and waited out the win, one that was delayed by ligament-transplant surgery on his right elbow in 1997 and another season spent in the minors.
"It seems like a big relief," said Linton, who was 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA at Rochester before having his contract purchased on Aug. 20 when the Orioles released Ricky Bones.
"Me and [pitching coach] Bruce Kison worked in the bullpen on just staying back and not trying to jump out too much. He basically said to limit myself to one less cup of coffee before I go out there. I kind of get excited and everything starts rushing forward. [Bullpen coach] Elrod Hendricks said the same thing. It's more than one person telling me the same thing. I finally got over the stubbornness of trying to do it on my own."
In one of the game's most crucial sequences, he got through the sixth by retiring Jim Thome on a check-swing pop up to third after Roberto Alomar had doubled with two outs and Ramirez walked.
"If you keep the ball down and change speeds, you can pitch here," Miller said. "There are two kinds of people here, the Colons and the others. A lot of times the others win games because they learn to control themselves and keep the ball down.
"The whole thing with Doug Linton is pitching ahead in the count. He can't be 2-0 and 3-0. Stay ahead in the count, change speeds and keep people off-balance. That's called pitching."
Miller needed more of the same in the eighth, when the Indians put the tying runs on with one out against reliever Al Reyes. Up stepped Alomar, who drilled a three-run homer off Reyes to win Friday's game. Miller's bullpen options were limited because Arthur Rhodes is unavailable with a bruised index finger, but he knew a bad matchup when he saw one.
Miller checked the stats and noticed that Alomar was 0-for-9 against left-hander Jesse Orosco, though they hadn't faced each other since 1995. "I don't know how much credence you can put in them, but that's about all I had to go with," Miller said.
Orosco got ahead, 0-1, then threw a slider that Alomar grounded to short to begin a double play.
Miller wouldn't commit to giving Linton another start. Matt Riley joins the rotation on Thursday, and Miller has said Doug Johns will remain in the rotation indefinitely.
"We still don't know Moose's situation," Miller said, referring to Mike Mussina's bruised shoulder that has forced him to miss three starts, including yesterday's. "We'll wait and see. All I know is, you keep getting people out, you'll pitch a lot."
Linton wasn't concerned about the lack of assurances. He was just thankful for getting another chance in a major-league game, in a role that has been yanked out from under him so many times during his career.
"It's a tough situation and they're giving me an opportunity," he said. "I'm trying to make the best of it."
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Indians' Dwight Gooden (3-3, 5.79) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (11-10, 4.17)
Tickets: About 4,000 remain Pub Date: 9/05/99