CHICAGO -- Baltimore Orioles manager Frank Robinson was reminiscing about 1989 yesterday afternoon, fondly remembering the way left-hander Jeff Ballard went about an 18-8 season that carried the club back into contention in the American League East.
Talk about a perfect segue. Ballard went out last night and reminded everyone of the way he pitched two years ago, holding the Chicago White Sox to six hits over eight-plus innings to score a 5-1 victory and avert a three-game sweep at Comiskey Park.
This is what Robinson said about Ballard before the game:
"He's not quite to where he was in 1989, but he's pretty close. The pitch that made him so effective back then was the sinker, down and away. I don't know if I've seen that yet."
Ballard aims to please. He threw the sinker and everything else in his repertoire on the way to his second victory of 1991. He had not won back-to-back decisions since his dream '89 season, but that's all it took to equal his victory total from last year.
He almost made Orioles history in the process. If he could have retired the White Sox in order in the ninth, he would have become the fourth pitcher in club history to pitch to the minimum 27 batters over nine innings, a feat accomplished previously by Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan and Bob Milacki.
But the White Sox opened the ninth with back-to-back singles, which persuaded Robinson to turn the game over to relief stopper Gregg Olson.
"Jeff had good command of his stuff tonight," Robinson said. "When he had to make a pitch, he made the pitch. He had good command of the strike zone. He was just outstanding."
Ballard poked some fun at himself ("I'm five months ahead of last year's pace") but did not seem particularly surprised to be pitching this well this early in the season.
"I've been throwing the ball well all year," he said. "Opening Day, I had the same kind of command, but the situations were different. For the most part, I've been able to carry the same stuff out there each time. This was nice, because I needed to stretch it out a little bit. You need to get into the ninth once in a while so you know you've been there before."
The Orioles needed a boost after dropping three straight games to fall into the AL East cellar. They got one from Ballard and another from Chicago starter Charlie Hough, whose debut in the White Sox rotation went sour in a hurry.
The White Sox had a lot more luck with their hard throwers. Right-hander Alex Fernandez gave up six runs in the series opener but still got credit for the victory. Jack McDowell was not as overpowering Tuesday as he was on Opening Day at Memorial Stadium, but he got the job done again.
Hough had control problems from the outset. He hit Brad Anderson to lead off the game and walked Cal Ripken later in the first inning. He handed back-to-back two-out walks to Leo Gomez and Ernie Whitt in the second inning. But it wasn't until the third that he got into a jam he couldn't escape.
He gave up a one-out single to Randy Milligan and a two-out hit to Dwight Evans before Joe Orsulak pulled a long fly ball down the right-field line. Right fielder Cory Snyder ran the ball down, but it glanced off the heel of his glove for a two-run double.
The fourth inning was Hough's undoing. He gave up two soft hits and loaded the bases with a two-out walk to Milligan before hitting Ripken with a pitch to bring in a run and walking Evans to bring home another.
That was all White Sox manager Jeff Torborg could bear. He lifted Hough for reliever Wayne Edwards after a 3 2/3 -inning performance in which Hough threw 112 pitches, walked five and hit two batters. Just to illustrate how badly Hough struggled, consider that Fernandez needed fewer pitches to go seven rocky innings Monday night and McDowell needed just six more to work eight innings Tuesday.
The Orioles needed all the help they could get. They had lost three straight and five of six.
"I think we're still kind of feeling our way around," Evans said. "We're upstream with some paddles, but we're not using them yet. We've got them in our hands, but we're not using them."
Hough has never done particularly well against the Orioles. He entered the game with a 6-11 lifetime record against Baltimore, all of the decisions coming when he was a Texas Ranger.
He was making his first start as a member of the White Sox but had made one unimpressive relief appearance in which he walked three batters in two innings.
Ballard has been pitching in some bad luck, but he was bounced around in the season opener against the White Sox, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings on the way to a 9-1 loss. He came back to defeat the Rangers his next time out but was left out of the decision after a solid performance against the Milwaukee Brewers last week.