When the first pitch was thrown last night, the Orioles no longer had to talk about steroids or today's return of Rafael Palmeiro or even a dismissed manager. They simply could concentrate on winning and getting their season back on track.
For a team so starved for good news, two straight wins is certainly an encouraging start. Jay Gibbons hit a grand slam as part of a five-run first inning, Rodrigo Lopez finished one out shy of a complete game and the Orioles downed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 9-5, before 25,556 last night at Camden Yards.
"It is a step," said manager Sam Perlozzo. "Let's face it, as much as we struggled, we have to take little steps until they add up to something. We just have to keep it going. Two wins is not enough for us."
Miguel Tejada added two hits and three RBIs as the Orioles (55-58) improved to 4-2 under Perlozzo. The Orioles were just 4-16 after the All-Star break last week when Perlozzo took over for the fired Lee Mazzilli.
A huge impact in the standings has yet to be made under Perlozzo's watch - the Orioles are 11 games back in the American League East and 10 back in the wild-card race - but at least the team's mood seems to be changing.
"We are not there yet," Gibbons said when asked if the Orioles are resigned to not making the playoffs for an eighth straight year. "We're still thinking about trying to compete in this thing. You never know. We can win 10 in a row and get back in this thing."
Last night, Perlozzo spoke to the media after the Orioles' second consecutive victory, which clinched their first series win since the All-Star break. Perlozzo's voice was barely audible over the thumping bass of the stereo next to Tejada's locker, which blared Jay-Z throughout the clubhouse.
"We have a little thing where rewards come for things done well," Perlozzo said. "If you come here after a loss, it will be quiet."
Said Gibbons: "[Perlozzo] said the more we win, the more stuff we get. We win four more in a row and we get facial hair, so we're trying hard."
Gibbons drove Casey Fossum's slider onto the flag court in right field for his second career grand slam and his 17th home run of the season, giving Lopez and the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
He was removed with two outs in the ninth after Toby Hall hit an RBI double, cutting the Orioles' lead to four runs. Perlozzo was booed when he went to the mound to get Lopez, but Jorge Julio came on and got the game's final out, after a wild pitch and a walk.
"It's a victory and I'll take that," said Lopez, who retired the first 10 Devil Rays in order. "I wanted to pitch a complete game ... but it just wasn't the right time."
The inning after Lopez allowed the three-run homer to Huff, the Orioles got all three runs right back.
Eric Byrnes led off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 11, encompassing every game since being acquired from Colorado for Larry Bigbie.
Melvin Mora walked and Tejada brought both Byrnes and Mora - and nearly new third base coach Rick Dempsey, who encouraged Mora down the line - home, giving the Orioles a five-run lead. Javy Lopez followed with an RBI single that brought an end to the night of Fossum (6-9).
For Tejada, who had 30 RBIs at the end of April, it was just his second three-RBI game since the season's first month.
"I want to win," Tejada said. "It's not easy losing as many games as we did in the last month. I just try to help the team, to get my hits and my RBIs. ... I am not worried about my numbers. I think I'd be more happy right now if [we continued to win] and I didn't have any RBIs."
With Tejada back to producing runs in the middle of the order and Perlozzo getting more established in his new office, things are returning closer to normal for the Orioles.
The players, however, are waiting out the media frenzy that they hope ends today with Palmeiro's return to the team. Perlozzo said that the first baseman will likely not be in the lineup for tonight's game after missing 10 days on suspension.
"Give us a couple of more days," said Gibbons. "Tomorrow is going to be interesting."