Before Kevin Millar stepped into the batter's box and delivered the hit that sent the Orioles to another thrilling victory, manager Dave Trembley yelled from the dugout to get the first baseman's attention.
"I said, 'Do you know what the sign for the squeeze [play] is?'" Trembley said. "And he looked at me like, 'What are you kidding?' "
With men on first and third and one out in the 10th inning, Trembley had no intention of asking one of his best run producers to drop down a squeeze bunt. His purpose was to relax Millar, who became the latest Oriole to deliver late-game heroics. Millar's single up the middle off Houston Astros closer Jose Valverde secured a 2-1 Orioles' victory before an announced 21,112 last night at Camden Yards.
A night after Melvin Mora connected for a go-ahead, two-run double off Valverde in the eighth, he scored the winning run as Millar's grounder got past the pitcher and trickled into center field. It gave the Orioles their fourth win in five games on this homestand and put them in position to go for a series sweep tonight of the Astros, who have lost seven straight. At 36-34, the Orioles are two games over .500 for the first time since May 22.
"The squeeze play is definitely not an option," Millar said. "You don't want to make a living doing that, but we've done a nice job of battling every game. ... You've really got to tip your hat to the club. It's someone different every night. That's what makes our team special. The lineup grinds one through nine, and you don't know who it's going to be."
The Orioles had their share of heroes last night, starting with Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed just one run, on Lance Berkman's seventh-inning homer, over eight innings. In a pitching duel with Brian Moehler, Guthrie surrendered only three hits and a walk while striking out a team season high of eight batters, a performance that Trembley said was his best all season.
Outfielder Luke Scott tied the game at 1 in the seventh inning with his 12th home run, a 423-foot shot to center field on Moehler's 3-0 fastball.
"Anytime you hit a home run at the big league level it always feels good, especially in that circumstance, with us down by one run," Scott said.
Scott's blast set the stage for the Orioles' most recent late-inning rally, which proved the perfect way to celebrate Trembley's one-year anniversary managing the team. Mora started the rally with a one-out single to center. With Aubrey Huff awaiting a 3-1 pitch, Trembley called for a hit-and-run, and it worked to perfection as Huff singled to left field and Mora sprinted to third. Astros shortstop and former Oriole Miguel Tejada had broken toward second to cover the base, and Huff's single went to the area that he vacated.
Millar took a strike and then laid off two split-fingered fastballs from the Astros' demonstrative closer before finding a pitch to his liking.
"You've always got to remember the pressure is on the pitcher," Millar said. "Sometimes as hitters we get too anxious. He's got great stuff. He's one of the better ones in the league, [and] he's a guy you want to get, with his antics. We've done a great job the last couple nights."