A drummer and an air guitarist, Eugene Kingsale and Doug Johns accompanied each other on a memorable tour yesterday against the Seattle Mariners. Johns gave the Orioles an eight-inning start, including five no-hit innings, and took the 4-2 win at a sold-out Camden Yards.
Kingsale furthered his monthlong audition in center field with three hits, including a game-breaking two-run single in the eighth inning.
In a September devoted mostly to subtle developments, the Aruban percussionist provided an exciting rhythm to the 66-76 Orioles' fifth straight win.
Third baseman Cal Ripken crept closer to 3,000 career hits by singling twice in four plate appearances. Combined with Friday night's 4-for-4 performance, Ripken produced hits in six straight at-bats to give him 2,980 with 20 games remaining this season. He has as many hits in his last two games as in his first 30 at-bats following his Sept. 1 return from the disabled list. In his other two trips to the plate, Ripken walked and reached on shortstop Alex Rodriguez's throwing error.
Chasing all sorts of history, Ripken enters today having reached in eight straight plate appearances, five shy of the club record.
Yet it was Johns (5-3) who sent a murmur through a crowd of 47,903 by cruising through five hitless innings against the game's most prolific home run-hitting team.
"Eric Milton threw a no-hitter. I was thinking about that," cracked Johns, referring to the Maryland alum and Minnesota Twins pitcher who performed the feat earlier in the afternoon.
"I was thinking about making quality pitches. Good idea, huh?" Johns answered after performing an impromptu clubhouse jam on an air guitar. "I was just trying to mix it up, keep them off-balance, throw strikes, especially once we had the 2-0 lead."
After allowing a leadoff opposite-field double to Russ Davis to end his no-hit bid in the sixth inning, Johns suffered his only damage in the seventh inning from first baseman Mike Blowers, signed to a minor-league contract Aug. 28 after playing an entire season in Japan. Blowers' two-run homer forced a 2-2 tie and threatened Johns' decision.
But Kingsale's three hits trumped Blowers' one blast. The day represented a career highlight for a player and a hoped-for sign to his organization.
When the Orioles signed Kingsale in June 1993, he was a spindly 16-year-old who commanded attention with his speed. In 1996 Kingsale became the first Aruban to play in the major leagues.
But now 23, Kingsale has played professionally for six seasons, meaning the Orioles have exhausted his minor-league options and must either retain him on next April's 25-man roster or expose him to irrevocable waivers.
Asked his opinion of his precarious position, the center fielder only shrugged. "I'm worried about nothing and it's just going good for me," said Kingsale, who lifted his average to .313.
This is Kingsale's third tour with the Orioles, but the first in which he has been given anything more than the most menial tasks.
Last September, Ray Miller and his staff were shocked by Kingsale's choppy swing and troubles in the outfield to find the ball off the bat. He received only two at-bats in 11 appearances.
"Last year was tough because I didn't have much playing time," said Kingsale. "I didn't have many at-bats. It wasn't like this year. I was excited to be there, but I felt I was only there for running and defense. This year I feel more part of the team."
General manager Frank Wren believes now the prudent time to expose Kingsale rather than wait until spring training. Brady Anderson has been moved out of center field. Kingsale has been given 32 at-bats and 10 starts. He has answered with 10 hits, three RBIs and the look of a maturing talent.
"We've all said he was kind of weak and that he needed to fill out and grow," said Miller of the 6-foot-3 Aruban generously listed at 194 pounds. "When I would get the reports from [Rochester manager Dave] Machemer, he always said, 'I don't know what's happened, but Eugene is seeing the ball real well now. He's not swinging at bad pitches. He's making them throw it over the plate.' "
Kingsale arrived in Rochester after hitting only .235 in 67 games at Double-A Bowie. Rather than wilt at a higher level, Kingsale flourished by accepting Machemer and third base coach Dave Cash's suggestion that he bunt more often and adapt a quicker, more wristy swing.
Of his 58 hits at Rochester, 16 came on bunts. Yesterday he began the first inning by deadening a bunt in front of third baseman Davis for a single. Eager for his first major-league steal, he was picked off before the Orioles rallied for two runs off Mariners starter Freddy Garcia (14-8).
A second single followed in the fourth inning. With one out and the bases loaded in the eighth, Miller had Anderson and Rich Amaral both stand with bats to counter any move to the bullpen by Mariners manager Lou Piniella. Instead, Piniella stuck with Garcia, already past 135 pitches.
Normally a double-play situation, Kingsale's first-inning bunt caused Piniella to constrict his infield. Kingsale bounced Garcia's first pitch to right field, scoring Jesse Garcia and Jerry Hairston for a 4-2 lead.
"I think he's going to be the type of player you see right now -- a guy who gets on base by bunting the ball, slapping the ball by the corners, and once in awhile I think he's going to hit a gap shot or a ball out of the park, which he did in Rochester," said Machemer.
On an afternoon when Johns played clubhouse heavy metal, Ripken took a two-step toward another lifetime achievement and the Orioles extended the season's fifth win streak of at least five games, Kingsale provided the beat.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' John Halama (11-6, 4.06) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (12-11, 5.00) Tickets: About 4,800 remain