Hayden Penn had 10 outs to sit through after grudgingly placing the ball in the palm of manager Lee Mazzilli. The Orioles' 20-year-old top pitching prospect, who departed with a three-run lead and to a standing ovation, was again in familiar territory.
Just six days earlier, Penn sat in the visiting dugout at PNC Park and watched a five-run lead and potential landmark victory disappear both quickly and painfully against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So last night, Penn decided on a different vantage point to sweat out his first major league win. After he shed himself of his sopping wet jersey on the steamy and occasionally rainy June night, Penn watched intently from the clubhouse as Jorge Julio and B.J. Ryan picked up the last six outs to give the Orioles a much-needed 8-5 victory over the Houston Astros before 23,297 at Camden Yards.
"It's a great feeling," said Penn, whose contract was purchased from Double-A Bowie on May 26 when Erik Bedard went on the disabled list. "I waited a long time for this."
After Ryan registered his 17th save by getting Craig Biggio to ground into a fielder's choice, Sidney Ponson summoned the ball from Brian Roberts' glove and handed it off to Penn. The rookie said later that he was sharper than he was in his other three starts, even though his line of seven hits, five earned runs, two walks and two home runs in 5 2/3 innings didn't attest to that.
The right-hander (1-0) tossed the game ball into his messy locker and will decide what to do with it. That, however, is for a later date.
"He deserves to have three wins by now," said Orioles designated hitter Jay Gibbons, who got his team's six-run second inning started last night with a two-run homer off Houston starter Brandon Backe (6-4). Gibbons was back in the lineup for the first time since June 8 because of a stomach virus
Last night, Penn was more than happy to share the spotlight with an Orioles team that appeared re-energized after returning from a road trip that kept them from home for two weeks and tested the resolve of an injury-hampered lineup.
The Orioles (37-26) played two of their worst games of the season in back-to-back losses to Cincinnati to end the 6-7 road trip, and players admitted that they were tired.
Mazzilli summed it up best after last night's game - the franchise's first victory over the Astros - by saying, "It's good to be home."
Indeed, it was. In his return yesterday from the disabled list, Larry Bigbie had three hits, including his first home run since Sept. 30 of last year, two runs and two RBIs.
The Orioles, who remain three games ahead of Boston in the American League East, pounded out 14 hits, battering Backe, who had won his past three starts. The Astros (26-36) arrived in town winners of five straight.
Roberts, David Newhan, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro had two hits each for the home team, which did strand 12 runners.
Bigbie's bases-empty home run followed Gibbons' blast in the second inning, but his biggest hit last night was his RBI single in the sixth inning off veteran left-hander John Franco that gave the Orioles an 8-5 lead and Penn a little less anxiety.
Asked about Bigbie ending his home run drought after connecting for 15 a season ago, Mazzilli said that was "meaningless" to him.
"This kid is going to hit home runs," Mazzilli said. "I like for him to hit the ball in the gap, hit the ball hard. His home runs are going to come. To me, that base hit off Franco was just as big."
If not for that, Jorge Julio, who was the pitcher who gave up four runs to the Pirates and kept Penn from getting his first win a week earlier, would have been facing the tying run after he drilled Morgan Ensberg, who hit a two-run homer off Penn two innings earlier, with a fastball in the ribs with no outs in the eighth inning.
Ryan also allowed a runner in the ninth, but got two nice defensive plays from right fielder Sosa and third baseman Melvin Mora.
Bigbie had been on the disabled list since May 28 because of a strained left hamstring.
"They just shut me down totally for about 10 days," said Bigbie, who hit .294 with two doubles and a homer in a four-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Ottawa. "It was frustrating but maybe it was the best thing for me. I just tried to clear my mind."
Penn did the same thing after he allowed a two-run homer to Jason Lane in the second inning. He had plenty of help from his teammates, who pounded out seven hits in the six-run second inning off Backe, who didn't make it out of the fourth
Along with Gibbons and Bigbie homers, Mora hit an RBI double and Sosa, who was coming off a two-home run game, then plated two runs with a double down the left-field line, giving the Orioles a 6-2 lead.
That was enough for Penn.
"I think he pitched a heck of a game," Mazzilli said. "He just got two pitches up in the count. I've seen him progress every start."
Opponent: Houston Astros
Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Astros' Andy Pettitte (3-6, 3.43) vs. Orioles' Bruce Chen (5-4, 3.61)