Belle, O's go rolling along


The games go on each night for the Orioles, as do the meetings and phone calls. Club officials huddle, ideas are exchanged, moves are debated.

In some ways, this team remains a work in progress more than two months into the season. It's still under construction, a tricky proposition when it's become so hot to the touch.

No one is throwing off more heat than Albert Belle, who hit two more home runs last night to spark the Orioles' 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Angels before 45,006 at Camden Yards and inch Mike Mussina closer to .500.

Closer Mike Timlin got the last three outs for his seventh save, allowing one run and stranding Adam Kennedy at third.

Belle has five homers and 14 RBIs in his last three games. The latest benefactor was Mussina, who limited Anaheim to two runs in 6 2/3 innings as the Orioles (30-34) posted their sixth win in a row to match their longest streak of the season and improved to 20-10 at home.

Once 9 1/2 games out of first place, they moved within six last night.

The Orioles haven't been this close to the surface since May 31, when a loss at Tampa Bay left them 23-27and kicked off a stretch of eight defeats in nine games.

Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, met again yesterday with manager Mike Hargrove to discuss the state of the team and potential trade partners. In the meantime, the victories keep coming, and which direction the Orioles should go becomes more complex.

Get younger and faster, but concede nothing? The Orioles clearly have taken hold of the last part of this equation.

"It's really still early, even though it's the middle of June," Hargrove said before the game. "We still have 3 1/2 months of baseball to play. That's a lot of baseball. I don't want to be premature about anything.

"This club feels good about itself. We're in discussion all the time about what direction the club should take, and whatever decision we reach will be for the better of the Baltimore Orioles.

And not only this year, but future years. But I'm not prepared to say that since we've put on a spurt that we've backed off or gone forward with anything. There's a lot of talking going on, as there is all the time."

As usual, Belle let his bat do the talking last night. After belting a grand slam in the eighth inning of Thursday's game against the Texas Rangers, he connected the first two times he came to the plate last night.

He staked the Orioles to a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Brady Anderson drew a leadoff walk and B.J. Surhoff singled off Angels left-hander Scott Schoeneweis with one out. After Anaheim pushed across a run in the second inning, Belle matched it in the third with a bases-empty shot to center field.

The home run, Belle's 15th of the season, gave him 29 total bases in 17 at-bats. He has seven homers and 20 RBIs on this homestand, which began June 9. Last night marked his 36th career two-homer game.

"A lot of hitters get the pitch they're looking for. The trick is doing something with it when you get it, and Albert's been doing it the last couple of week," Hargrove said. "Albert's one of the few guys who can carry a team with his bat. He's done it before for the Indians and White Sox, and he'll do it.

Belle was denied a chance at a fourth homer in four consecutive at-bats when Angels manager Mike Scioscia ordered an intentional walk with first base open and two outs in the fifth inning.

"He's seeing the ball pretty well right now," Mussina said. "It's June and the weather's warmed up a little bit and he's warmed up a little bit. Hopefully, it'll stay warm all the way through Oct. 1."

Belle couldn't accept credit for knocking Schoeneweis out of the game. The left-hander took care of that himself.

Schoeneweis threw one pitch to Will Clark leading off the fourth inning and stood on the mound as assistant trainer Rick Smith bolted from the dugout. The pitcher slowly walked off the field with a strain in his right ribcage and a 1-0 count on Clark. Right-hander Mike Fyhrie took his place.

This was Schoeneweis' third start against the Orioles this season, and none has gone particularly well. He's given up 14 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings.

Mussina (5-6) had his own issues with the Angels before last night. He allowed six runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings of a May 4 start at Camden Yards - his shortest outing of the season. He went on to lose his next three starts, as well, to fall to 1-6. Since that last defeat, 2-1 to the Texas Rangers on May 20, he's 4-0 with a no-decision.

Mussina dropped his guard in the second inning last night when Kennedy doubled with two outs and scored on a single by No. 9 hitter Orlando Palmeiro. He retired eight in a row at one point, without the Angels getting a ball out of the infield, before Tim Salmon doubled in the sixth inning.

Salmon moved to third on a one-out single by Troy Glaus, but Scott Spiezio bounced into a double play. Spiezio entered the game 5-for-15 with a home run and six RBIs lifetime against Mussina.

This type of escape act is becoming common for Mussina, who hasn't allowed more than two runs in a start since Boston scored three against him on May 14.

Anaheim reduced the lead to 4-2 in the seventh on an RBI groundout by Darin Erstad after Ben Molina opened with a single and took third on a one-out double by Palmeiro. After Mussina walked Kevin Stocker, Hargrove brought in left-hander Buddy Groom to face Mo Vaughn. Three pitches later, Groom had a strikeout.

Mussina threw 124 pitches, his second-highest total of the season after the 138 he needed to defeat Texas, 3-1, on April 29 for his first victory.

"I don't think Moose was on the way he can pitch," Hargrove said, "but he certainly showed why he is who he is by doing what he did with the stuff he had."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Tim Belcher (season debut) vs. Orioles' Jason Johnson (0-4, 5.48)

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