When the Orioles dealt Miguel Tejada in late July, the primary purpose was to make switch-hitting third baseman Josh Bell the everyday starter, even against tough left-handers, and to see whether the husky 23-year-old could replicate the power stroke he flashed in the minors.
Through his first 74 big league at-bats, Bell had no homers and just three extra-base hits, including only one against a lefty.
On Saturday, in the Orioles' 8-6 win over the Texas Rangers, Bell rewarded the club's patience by bashing the toughest of southpaws, Rangers ace Cliff Lee, for two homeruns and five RBIs in his first two at-bats. Bell even added a nice barehanded pickup and pinpoint throw from third to get the speedy Elvis Andrus in the seventh inning.
"It was the Josh Bell Show," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I was almost as impressed with his play on the slow roller, which was a big play at that time. Outs are so precious against them. Great to see a smile on his face."
Twenty minutes after the game had ended, Bell was still smiling.
"I don't think it's ever really going to set in. But this is something I'll remember for the rest of my life and my family that was watching, just something for them," said Bell, whom the Orioles acquired in July 2009 as the centerpiece of the trade of George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I just feel blessed to get an opportunity to where I can play in the big leagues and just help a bigleague team win."
Bell's first major league homer came in the third, a two-run shot against Lee that landed in the center-field seats, an estimated distance of 394 feet. The second came in the fourth, a 398-foot, three-run blast that was caught by a fan sitting next to the one who snagged the first homer.
Bell's second homer was the Orioles' third in the fourth inning. Ty Wigginton and Luke Scott had already hit back-to-back home runs in the inning to put the Orioles up 4-2. Wigginton's shot, his 19th, traveled an estimated 442feet and landed alongside the Orioles' bullpen in center. Not to be outdone, Scott smashed his 23rd this season, a 422-foot blast to right. It was the fifth time the Orioles have had consecutive homers this season.
Combined, the Orioles hit 1,660 feet of long balls against Lee, who has surrendered just 13 all season, seven of which have been by the Orioles. Three came July 10 in Lee's Rangers debut in Texas and the rest on Saturday before a fired-up announced crowd of 23,041 at Camden Yards.
"He doesn't make many mistakes, and when he does you better take advantage of them," Showalter said. "We did."
The eight runs charged to Lee tied his career high, and the 52/3 innings he pitched marked his shortest outing of the season. In his past two starts against the Orioles, Lee (10-7) has allowed 14 earned runs in 142/3 innings pitched (8.59 ERA). In his other 20starts this season, including a one-run gem in May against the Orioles while with the Seattle Mariners, Lee has a 2.59 ERA.
The win gave the Orioles (44-80) their sixth victory in nine tries against the American League West-leading Rangers, guaranteeing their first season series victory over Texas (68-54) since 2004.
Orioles starter Brad Bergesen (5-9) picked up his second consecutive win after seven straight losing decisions by allowing five earned runs in seven innings. The Rangers' big hit came in the seventh when Josh Hamilton smacked his 27th homer of the season to get Texas within three.
"I felt like I just battled all day, didn't necessarily have my best stuff, but tried to go as deep as I could," Bergesen said. "It's always my game. We were able to score a lot of runs today, so it was huge for us."
Reliever Michael Gonzalez allowed a run in the eighth, but 35-year-old veteran Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth for his first career save outside Japan. He struck out the potential tying run, Vladimir Guerrero, to secure the win.
"All I was thinking was, 'Make sure I don't give up a home run in that at-bat.'" Uehara said through interpreter Jiwon Bang.
But the story of the afternoon was Bell, who had 13 homers for Triple-A Norfolk this season and had 20 in two Double-A stops in 2009. Of his 69 career minor league home runs, 62 have been versus right-handers. So his dominance of Lee while hitting from the right side was particularly surprising.
"It just goes to show you that you just have to keep working, just stay positive with things," Bell said. "I know that I can hit right-handed and it just feels great to be able to do it."
Bell became the fourth rookie in modern Orioles history to have a multi-homer game to accompany his first big league long ball. Jim Fuller (1973), Curt Blefary (1965) and Boog Powell (1962) also achieved the feat.
In the sixth inning, Bell nearly became the club's only rookie besides Nick Markakis in 2006 to homer three times in a game. But his fly ball bounced just above the grounds crew shed door in right, nearly clearing the wall. He had to settle for a 370-foot single and a rousing ovation from the crowd.
In the eighth against reliever Frank Francisco, Bell hit a broken-bat grounder that was turned into the final out.
"He is a big boy. He is big, he is learning, he is strong and he showed it today," Markakis said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bell. "He is only going to get better, and it's going to be fun to watch."