DETROIT -- The Baltimore Orioles had given every indication that Leo Gomez would be called up to replace injured Craig Worthington at third base last night, but their plans apparently changed between Monday night and yesterday morning.
The club recalled utility player Jeff McKnight instead, and manager Frank Robinson named Tim Hulett the everyday third baseman until further notice.
Funny how things work out.
Hulett hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning last night to vault the Orioles to a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium.
The Orioles were two outs away from their fourth straight loss when Hulett pulled an 0-2 fastball from reliever Paul Gibson into the left-field stands to carry left-hander Mike Flanagan to his first Orioles victory since Aug. 27, 1987.
The two-run shot ended a string of 17 homers with the bases empty and gave the Orioles a major boost at a time when the club is struggling to find enough healthy bodies to fill out the lineup card. But Robinson wasn't ready to talk turning point.
"After what happened after each of our one-game winning streaks lately, I'm not going to say anything," Robinson said. "I'm going to wait for tomorrow and see what happens. I'm not going to jinx us. But I will say this: You have to win one before you can win two in a row."
The Tigers had held a one-run lead since the third inning, when former Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton hit his fifth home run to break a 3-3 tie, but they were left with one chance to get the game back against Orioles stopper Gregg Olson in the bottom of the ninth.
Olson blew his previous save opportunity and left room to VTC wonder whether he was suffering from too little work. He put himself in position to blow this one, too, when he gave up a two-out single to bring the winning run to the plate, but he blew away 1990 home run champion Cecil Fielder on three pitches to record his fifth save in six attempts.
It was one of those nights when the Orioles had no reason to expect their luck to change. Robinson could point to 12 players who required treatment in the training room before last night's game. Two of them, Worthington and Dave Johnson, are on the disabled list. At least two more, Mike Devereaux and Dwight Evans, were unavailable to play last night.
The push-button manager had no buttons left to push. The Orioles had to go with a set lineup because there were only about nine or 10 position players healthy enough to contribute.
"I couldn't be prouder of the effort of these guys tonight," Robinson said. "We were a nine-man crew, and some of them were not 100 percent, but they played nine innings for me."
Hulett is not known as a power hitter, but his bat has shown some occasional pop. He hit 17 home runs for the Chicago White Sox in 1986 and drove in some big runs for the Orioles during the surprising stretch drive of 1989.
"I had some years in the minor leagues when I hit 20, but that was because I was playing in some small parks," Hulett said. "I do have a little pop, just enough to get myself in trouble."
On this night, he got a teammate out of trouble. Starting pitcher Jose Mesa had survived a shaky start to pitch into the seventh inning, but he was headed for his fifth loss of the year until Hulett's fourth home run of the season.
"We've been battling the last few weeks," Hulett said. "We've come back a few times and fallen short. We need something to propel us forward. I hope this is it."
Mesa was coming off the worst start of his major-league career, a 1 1/3 -inning effort against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday night that featured five earned runs on five walks and just one hit.
The Orioles, oddly enough, were coming off a similar performance by Bob Milacki, who gave up five runs on five walks and one hit in less than an inning Monday night.
"I don't want to put any pressure on you," Robinson told Mesa before the game, "but I need at least two innings from my starter tonight."
Everybody laughed . . . until Mesa allowed five of the first six Tigers to reach base in the bottom of the first inning and had allowed an early 3-0 lead to get away before he got out of the second.
The Orioles put three quick runs on the board against Tigers starter John Cerutti in the top of the first, all of them coming on one swing of the bat by first baseman Randy Milligan.
Hulett had reached base on a one-out walk and Cal Ripken laid down a perfect bunt to put runners at first and second. Milligan tripled off the fence in right-center field to bring home two runs and scored when the throw to third sailed over the head of third baseman Tony Phillips for an error.
Mesa handed a leadoff walk to Phillips in the bottom of the first and gave up back-to-back singles to Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell for the first Tigers run. Fielder hit into a double play, but Mesa walked Tettleton and Rob Deer to load the bases before getting Lloyd Moseby to end the inning with a fly out to left.
Detroit tied the game in the second on consecutive run-scoring doubles by Whitaker and Trammell, then took the lead in the third on the leadoff home run by Tettleton.
The Orioles would not have been in a position to win if it hadn't been for McKnight, who cut down a run at the plate in the sixth inning.
McKnight picked up a base hit off the bat of Phillips and threw out speedy Milt Cuyler at the plate to keep his team within a run.
Site: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Orioles starter: Ben McDonald (2-2, 5.52)
Tigers starter: Bill Gullickson (4-2, 4.89)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)