If Ben McDonald's arm was bothering him last night, he found the perfect antidote in the California Angels.
McDonald has never lost to the Angels, and his history prevailed over his aches and pains as he pitched the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-1, six-hit victory in his first complete game of the season. With some assistance from his defense, McDonald overpowered a team that has been playing good baseball on its current road trip.
The Angels got only three runners into scoring position after the first inning, as McDonald beat them for the third time in his brief career.
Five Orioles knocked in runs in a barrage of 11 singles against four California pitchers. Three were two-out hits, brightening the night of Oriole manager Frank Robinson, who hasn't seen much production in the clutch this year.
A day earlier, McDonald had complained of some aftereffects from the strained flexor muscle that kept him off the active roster until April 19.
But there was no evidence that anything was wrong with the right-hander, who has performed well in three of his past four outings.
"I think more was made of the stiffness than should have been," said McDonald. "Basically, what it amounted to was a tight elbow, and it loosens up the more I work.
"I've still got to get that arm stronger. I don't think that area is where it should be yet. But if it stays the way it is, there is no problem."
The Orioles bounced back from a first-inning California run to tie the game, went ahead 2-1 in the the third, then iced it with three in the fifth, the runs coming on two-out hits by Joe Orsulak, Randy Milligan and Jeff McKnight, who had been a combined 1-for-22 with two out and men in scoring position.
"It was nice to play a sharp game behind Ben and nice to get those two-out hits. Shocking, even," said Robinson. "This is what we're going to need, what we're looking for. Somebody has to start someplace. Hopefully, this will be the game."
McDonald did the rest, catching Luis Polonia stealing to end the seventh inning without throwing a pitch and enduring his final jam.
He threw 124 pitches and has a 1.17 ERA against California, which has hit .154 against him.
"What it amounted to was good location," he said. "I was able to throw the fastball where I wanted. That's about all I used from the fifth, sixth inning. I just mixed in a few changeups.
"But my curveball is not where I want it to be. Still, when you have that kind of a lead you can just challenge them."
The team's field management, responding to a story in The Sun yesterday, said McDonald would not have taken the mound if he had not been healthy.
"As far as I'm concerned, the problem is nothing more than the normal stiffness between starts," Robinson. "It is something very common."
Robinson and pitching coach Al Jackson took exception to the story, which they thought suggested that an injured pitcher would be working.
"If anything, I'm overprotective," said the manager. "If there were any doubts in my mind, he would not go. . . . No way.
"It's his future, his livelihood on the line. I'm not going to be one to intentionally endanger that. Everyone knows our history with young pitchers."
Robinson and Jackson have been cautious with all of the younger pitchers, particularly McDonald and Gregg Olson.
McDonald got off to a rocky start when Luis Polonia tripled down the right-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly by the league's leading hitter, Wally Joyner. Dave Winfield then doubled.
McDonald then retired 14 of the next 16 batters, surviving another jam in the third inning when Polonia singled and stole second and third, and Winfield walked with two out.
That was the last of his serious trouble until an infield hit by Joyner and a two-out single by Gary Gaetti put two runners aboard in the sixth. McDonald then struck out Lance Parrish with a sizzling fastball to end the uprising.
McDonald had pitched creditably in two of his previous three starts, lasting 6 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners in the most recent one, his longest stint of the season.
The Orioles led in that game when McDonald left, but Olson blew a save in a 5-4 defeat Sunday.
McDonald's only previous victory had been against California, when he went six innings in a two-hit shutout shared by four pitchers.
California came into the game with a 5-2 record on its East Coast trip, during which the hitters had batted .271 and the pitchers had a 3.10 ERA.
"It was a great game considering the headlines I woke up to this morning," said Robinson. "I thought we were going to have to amputate Ben McDonald's arm, and then I would have to start a left-hander."
Angels first: Polonia tripled to right. Joyner hit sacrifice fly to right, Polonia scored. Winfield doubled to left. Parker flied out to left. Gaetti grounded out to third. Angels 1, Orioles 0.