It was Jeff Robinson's night to put up or shut up.
He had put out the word last week that he didn't care much for the way he was being handled by the Baltimore Orioles coaching staff, so his return to the rotation took on a little added significance last night.
But Robinson was up to the challenge, shutting down the powerful Oakland Athletics for 7 2/3 innings while a rejuvenated Orioles offense was pounding out four home runs in a 6-1 victory at Memorial Stadium.
It was Robinson's second straight solid performance. He pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings of relief on Friday night, just hours after he went public with his demand that the club move him back into the starting rotation or use him exclusively in relief.
"I've always been one to say how I feel," Robinson said. "I didn't say anything derogatory about anyone. I just feel like I'm most effective when I go out there on a regular basis and I foresaw a situation that might hinder my ability to help the team."
Manager Frank Robinson responded by scheduling him for last night's start, though that apparently was what he was planning to do all along.
"When you're going the way we're going," the manager said, "all 25 guys have to do what they are asked to do. They have to understand that. We're going back to a five-man rotation and he's in the rotation. That's all I'm going to say on the subject."
Jeff Robinson gave up 10 hits and three walks, but he was resourceful enough to get away with it. He has given up two runs or fewer in three of his five 1991 starts, which makes him the second-most effective starter (behind Jose Mesa) in the rotation.
"I felt like I had good stuff," he said. "I don't panic when I have my back to the wall. That's when I feel I pitch the best. Today, I was able to make some pitches and get some good defensive plays behind me."
He was not overpowering this time, but his teammates were. Cal Ripken and Joe Orsulak hit back-to-back home runs off rookie Joe Slusarski in the first inning. Streaking Mike Devereaux hit his sixth in the fifth and Chris Hoiles added his first in the sixth as the Orioles took over the American League lead with 34.
The lofty power stats, however, do not translate into impressive run- production numbers, not when 22 of the past 23 Orioles home runs have come with no one on base.
Still, Frank Robinson was saying just before the game that he saw enough positive signs in Seattle during the weekend to warrant a more optimistic view of his struggling team, and last night's game seemed to bear him out.
"I liked what I saw over the weekend," he said. "We did a lot of good things. I felt like it's the beginning of this ballclub playing the way it's capable of playing."
That remains to be seen, of course, but the Orioles got off to a good start last night. Ripken hit a towering shot to left field that landed well back in the bleachers for his ninth home run of the season. That tied him with Oakland's Dave Henderson for the American League home run lead and left him alone at the top of the RBI rankings with 27.
Orsulak's shot was less impressive, but just as effective. He pulled a line drive just inside the right-field foul pole to give the club its first back-to-back homers since Ripken and Sam Horn against the Kansas City Royals last Aug. 3.
Bill Ripken had come into the game batting .159, but he also delivered at a time when the Orioles needed to keep the pressure on the youthful A's starter, driving home a run with a two-out double in the second.
It has been a difficult spring for the younger half of the Ripken double-play combination. Bill led the club with a .291 average last year. He entered last night's game with the lowest average of any Orioles starter.
"Last year, Billy was a real offensive weapon at the bottom of the lineup," Frank Robinson said. "That really made a difference. We've missed that."
The A's came back to score a run in the third. Ernest Riles singled with one out and tagged up on a deep fly ball by Jose Canseco. He scored on a seeing-eye base hit by Harold Baines that skipped past a diving Cal Ripken.
Orioles first: Devereaux struck out. Anderson lined out to third. C.Ripken homered to left. Orsulak homered to right. Milligan grounded out to second. Orioles 2, Athletics 0.
Orioles second: Horn struck out. Worthington singled to right. On Slusarki's wild pitch, Worthington to second. Hoiles struck out. B.Ripken doubled to left, Worthington scored. Devereaux struck out. Orioles 3, Athletics 0.
Athletics third: R.Henderson struck out. Riles singled to right. Canseco flied out to center, Riles to second. Baines singled to center, Riles scored. D.Henderson struck out. Orioles 3, Athletics 1.
Orioles fifth: Devereaux homered to center. Anderson flied out to right. C.Ripken singled to left. Orsulak grounded out to pitcher, C.Ripken to second. Milligan walked. Horn singled to right, C.Ripken scored, Milligan to third. Walton relieved Slusarski. Worthington popped out to second. Orioles 5, Athletics 1.
Orioles sixth: Hoiles homered to left. B.Ripken grounded out to shortstop. Devereaux walked. Devereaux stole second. Anderson grounded out to first, Devereaux to third. C.Ripken walked. Allison relieved Walton. Evans, pinch hitting for Orsulak, struck out. Orioles 6, Athletics 1.