DETROIT -- A lot of people would like to think last night's 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers could be the game to turn around the Orioles' season.
Maybe it will be, but this wasn't the way it was originally planned.
Had the Orioles stuck to the plan outlined by manager Frank Robinson 24 hours earlier, Tim Hulett, who hit the game-winning two-run home run, wouldn't have been in the lineup. And Jeff McKnight, who threw out the speedy Milt Cuyler at home plate in the sixth inning, would've been back in Rochester.
These have been the kind of things that have backfired on the Orioles all season, but last night had a magical spark to it.
"We definitely needed something like this," said Hulett, who drove an 0-and-2 fastball from Paul Gibson into the leftfield seats in the ninth inning. The shot broke a string of 17 straight bases-empty homers for the Orioles as well as a season-high three- game losing streak. "We need maybe 15 more like this one," said Hulett.
For at least the next two weeks, Hulett will have a chance to provide some of the spark. When Craig Worthington went down with a pulled hamstring muscle Monday night, it presented an opportunity for Hulett.
It didn't appear that way at first. McKnight had just been sent back to Rochester to make room for reliever Kevin Hickey, but Robinson said he would not be recalled, despite the fact the Orioles only had two healthy outfielders.
"He won't be the one we add," Robinson insisted. "We may get him here as insurance in case somebody else has to go on the disabled list, but he won't be the one we recall."
Every indication was that the Orioles were going to use Worthington's injury as a chance to play Leo Gomez on a daily basis for the next two weeks. It was a decision that was all but carved in stone -- until sometime yesterday morning when it was logically decided that McKnight would be the most useful player at this particular time.
When he was asked after last night's game if his plans of 24 hours earlier were to play someone else at third base, Robinson dodged the question. "No comment," he said.
Asked if Hulett would be the Orioles' third baseman for the next two weeks while Worthington recuperates, Robinson replied in the affirmative. "Yes," said the manager, "he's my man."
Whatever the situation, Hulett is prepared to deal with it. "I realize my job is to fill in for injured guys, give somebody a break or play enough to keep myself sharp," said Hulett. "I mentally prepare myself for that role and I think I've been able to do a pretty good job."
Now it appears he'll have to mentally prepare himself for a different role, at least temporarily. "Yes, I realize now that I may be playing every day until Worthy comes back," said Hulett.
Or until the Orioles come up with a different formula, which could have happened hours ago based on the most recent experience.
However they happened to get there, and for whatever reason, the Orioles did manage to have the right players in the right situations last night. The list starts with Randy Milligan, returned to his first base station as much because of injuries as anything, whose triple led to three first-inning runs.
As improbable as it might seem, starting pitcher Jose Mesa, who created a mess in each of the first three innings, is also high on the list. The fact that the righthander lasted into the seventh inning on a night he seemed headed for disaster was a very big plus.
"Sometimes when you don't have your good stuff, you have to find a way to hang around, make some good pitches and keep your team in the game," said Robinson. "Mesa was able to do that.
"The bullpen did a good job, the fielders did a good job and McKnight and Chris Hoiles [who made a difficult tag on Cuyler] came up with a big play."
Mark Williamson, who had been buried under a five-run onslaught the night before, relieved Mesa and got out of a jam in the seventh, Mike Flanagan (1-1) got the win with a perfect eighth and Gregg Olson closed it out with his sixth save and first since May 3.
Flanagan was asked if he could remember his last win for the Orioles. "No, I can't," said the lefthander, who was 3-6 in 1987 before being traded to Toronto (for Mesa and Ossie Peraza).
"His last win for the Orioles was tonight [last night]," said Paul Kilgus, sitting at the next locker.
"That's pretty good, I wish I had thought of it," said Flanagan, who is among the league leaders in the one-liner department. "But hopefully, the last one hasn't come yet."
Hulett's home run came after Bill Ripken led off the ninth with his second single of the night and Brady Anderson struck out trying to sacrifice. With righthander Mike Henneman ready in the bullpen, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson elected to stay with the lefthanded Gibson rather than risk facing Sam Horn as the potential winning run.
"He threw me fastballs away and then tried to come inside," said Hulett, who numbers four home runs among his nine hits. "I think he was trying to back me away, but he didn't get it all the way inside."
Five innings earlier, against starter John Cerutti, Hulett came within two feet of a grand slam, only to have Lloyd Moseby make a great catch against the fence in left-centerfield. "I didn't think I got that one enough to get out, but I thought it was enough to get into the gap," said Hulett.
But not even a grand slam could've provided Hulett with the satisfaction of his two-run shot in the ninth. There was no doubt about that one.