Roy Smith never has been a guy who could get cozy about his station in major-league baseball.
His stuff won't remind you of Roger Clemens', he has proved hittable throughout a checkered career, and when the Minnesota Twins went to a youth movement last season, Smith knew his days there were numbered.
But the 19,349 fans at Memorial Stadium last night aren't likely to buy any of that assessment after the journeyman right-hander became Baltimore Orioles' king for a day.
Smith was hero and subject of a standing ovation, leading the Orioles to a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians that ended the team's longest losing streak of the season at five and handed manager John Oates his first major-league victory.
"I've always had to fight for what I've had," said Smith, who went 6 2/3 tough innings on another muggy night and left in favor of three relievers with a two-run lead.
"Coming up and having to do well right away is not something I haven't experienced," he said. "I'm used to it."
Recalled from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings last week when Ben McDonald went on the disabled list, Smith beat one of his former teams with his assortment of off-speed pitches and his confidence. He pitched for the Indians in parts of 1984 and '85.
He allowed a run in the first on a bunt single by Alex Cole, who stole second and scored on two ground balls, then shut down Cleveland until the seventh.
By then, a three-run homer by Randy Milligan, the Orioles' first homer with more than than one runner on base since Sam Horn's grand slam April 15 at Milwaukee, and Tim Hulett's fifth homer, his high as an Oriole, had provided a cushion.
Smith, 29, signed with Baltimore on New Year's Day after being released by the Twins, who had traded Frank Viola for five pitchers early last season.
He had started 1990 as the Twins' No. 2 starter but was unprepared after the lockout-shortened spring and pulled a groin muscle in his first start.
Things went downhill from there, and Smith said he knew that from a business standpoint, he was a target.
"It hurt, but I understood that I was expendable," he said. "Here, I know I'm a role-type guy. I'm not going to be the ace of this staff."
Smith allowed a .369 batting average to left-handed hitters last year, highest in the American League. The Indians were hitting .382 against him before going 6-for-25 last night.
He was in some jams, getting two fly balls to end a two-on, one-out situation in the second, then getting Felix Fermin to hit into a double play in the fifth.
"That one really picked me up," said Smith. "I didn't feel like I had good command at that point."
The bullpen took care of the rest. Paul Kilgus getting one out to squelch the Indians' last rally against Smith in the seventh, Todd Frohwirth jumping into the fray the same day he was called up from Rochester and pitching a scoreless inning, and Gregg Olson gaining his sixth save despite a two-hit ninth.
Smith's only adjustment was to the weather after pitching two months in the chilly spring weather of Rochester.
"The only thing I had no experience with was the heat," he said. "You have to get used to it. But the heat helps the breaking ball, and I've always liked pitching here."
All of a sudden, the Orioles are in position to win their second series of the year, their starting pitching is 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in the past four games, and Oates' hearty appetite is back.
General manager Roland Hemond brought the manager a heaping strawberry sundae, and Oates was looking forward to a 16-ounce New York strip with all the trimmings.
"I haven't been eating much, either. It's hard to eat or sleep," said Milligan. "But I don't want a sundae. I want some beef."
First, Oates had to beef up the pitching staff with Smith and Frohwirth, who were prime cuts in their coming-out parties.
"I feel good for the guys. I could see on their faces that they probably wanted a win more than I did," said Oates. "That says a lot."
They got it from a pitcher who has always feasted on the Orioles (4-0 lifetime) but hadn't won since July 27.
"I guess I'm just going to have to find some other teams to beat," said Smith with a grin.
Reminded that his next start is against Clemens in Boston on Sunday, Smith said, "He's not going to get up [to the plate]."
That is the statement of a man whose station in baseball has just improved dramatically.
Indians first: Cole singled to second. Cole stole second. Fermin grounded out to shortstop C.Ripken, Cole to third. Baerga grounded out to second baseman B.Ripken, Cole scored. Belle flied out to left fielder Orsulak. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Indians 1, Orioles 0.
Orioles second: Orsulak walked. Evans lined out to left fielder Browne. On pitcher Nagy's wild pitch, Orsulak to second. Horn singled to shortstop. Milligan homered to left center on 0-1 count, Orsulak, Horn and Milligan scored. Melvin popped out to first baseman Jacoby. B.Ripken struck out. 3 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 3, Indians 1 .