ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Baltimore Orioles and thei new-look lineup had played it coy long enough. The time had come to take the thing public, and shortstop Cal Ripken was just the guy to do it.
Ripken, after all, was supposed to be the major beneficiary of the off-season rebuilding effort that put Glenn Davis and Dwight Evans behind him in the batting order, so who better to be the leading man in the club's first big offensive show of 1991?
There's no telling what effect the beefed-up lineup might have had on his performance, but there was no arguing with the results. Ripken hit two home runs and had a career-high seven RBI last night as the Orioles scored an 11-4 victory over the Texas Rangers at Arlington Stadium.
The presence of Davis and Evans was supposed to mean better pitches to hit for Ripken, whose offensive numbers declined after the Orioles lineup of the mid-1980s was disassembled. That theory took a beating in the first three games of the season, but it could not be dismissed after the team's biggest individual run-production performance since Eddie Murray drove in seven runs against the Oakland Athletics on May 18, 1986.
"I can't say right now . . . it's too early to tell how they're pitching me," Ripken said. "But I do know I'm more relaxed. I know we have more firepower. In the past I have tried to over-achieve, and when you try to over-achieve, the pitchers expand your strike zone."
Ripken had a triple and a single to go with the two homers he hit off reliever Brad Arnsberg late in the game. He might have hit for the cycle for the second time in his career, but his second home run landed on the top of the left-field fence and bounced over.
"He's hitting the ball hard," said Orioles manager Frank Robinson. "He's seeing the ball better, he's more relaxed mentally, and he doesn't feel he has to carry the entire team."
Ripken's performance provided the margin of victory for left-hander Jeff Ballard, who had not won as a starting pitcher since he defeated the Rangers, 9-2, in Texas on May 27 last year.
Ballard pitched six innings and gave up four runs on seven hits to even his record at 1-1. He got some help from the Orioles bullpen, but it was the generous offensive support that guaranteed the victory.
The Orioles had 12 hits -- as many as they had in their three previous games combined -- in their most productive offensive performance since they scored 11 runs against the California Angels last Aug. 12.
It might as well have been Opening Night for the revamped offensive attack, which could not scrape together more than five hits in any of the first three games of the season. Three games might not be enough to constitute a prolonged hitting slump, but leave it at this: The Orioles were fortunate to be in a position to even their record at 2-2 last night.
They came into the game with a combined .138 batting average and could not boast a single multi-hit individual performance. The Orioles had been so ineffective at the plate that five major-league players -- Devon White, Delino DeShields, Lenny Dykstra, Benito Santiago and Fred McGriff -- came into Friday's games with more runs to their credit.
But all bad things must come to an end. Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers struggled with his control at the outset, and the Orioles scored five times in the first two innings to run him off the mound.
The Rangers, who are winless in their first four games, seem to do whatever it takes to lose. Rogers walked two batters in the first innings, but might have gotten off cheaply if center fielder Tony Scruggs had not played a line drive by Ripken into a run-scoring triple.
Scruggs mistakenly charged the liner and then lost his footing on the soggy turf. By the time he retrieved the ball, Randy Milligan had scored from first and Ripken was standing at third. Rogers further complicated the inning with a walk to Glenn Davis before Dwight Evans singled in a run and Craig Worthington brought home another with a ground out.
Five straight Orioles reached base with one out in the second inning to bring Rangers manager Bobby Valentine to the mound and left-hander John Barfield out of the bullpen. Ripken again delivered the big hit, driving in two runs with a bases loaded single up the middle.
Barfield entered the game after Rogers hit Davis with a pitch to load the bases again. He struck out Evans and got Worthington on a comebacker to get out of the jam, which didn't seem particularly significant at the time, but increased in importance when the Rangers climbed back to within a run in the fourth.
Ballard, who had won only once in his previous 20 starts, was in serious danger of letting this decision get away until Worthington delivered the first Orioles home run of the year in the fifth inning.
The Rangers ended a string of 21 scoreless innings when Rafael Palmeiro slammed a three-run homer to right field in the third and cut the lead to one when Steve Buechele hit a towering shot to left in the fourth.