For three straight games John Oates got to push all the buttons he wanted and came up as empty as his rapidly shrinking stomach.
Three straight leads, three straight losses (there were no buttons available for last Friday's 7-1 loss to the Yankees).
The dream job was turning into a nightmare. As a big-league manager Oates was 0-and-4. All he could do was sleep and not eat. Elizabeth Taylor never lost 9 pounds so fast.
Then, presto, for one night at least, he was like a casino jackpot winner. Or so it seemed. Every button was a winner.
There was Roy Smith, who took the excursion route from Minnesota to Baltimore via Rochester, pitching 6 2/3 innings so impressively that he drew a standing ovation.
Paul Kilgus made a cameo appearance to retire one batter.
Todd Frohwirth, the latest arrival from Rochester, popped in for a perfect inning.
And old reliable Gregg Olson provided just enough suspense to make it a memorable evening.
Oh yes, let's not forget Randy Milligan delivering, of all things, a three-run homer, Tim Hulett's more familiar solo shot, and the run-scoring pinch-hit from Chris Hoiles.
It all added up to a 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians that enabled the Orioles to break a five-game losing streak -- and Oates to regain his appetite.
"For the last four nights all I've been able to do is sleep, I haven't been able to eat anything," said Oates, who currently has the most publicized waistline in Baltimore. "Now I feel like I could eat half a cow and I don't even want to think about going to sleep."
Nobody has to remind Oates that it was only one game -- a quick glance at the standings is reminder enough. But it was one game he admits took precedence over any other.
"I was so pumped up in the ninth inning I had to say to mysel'wait a minute, this is only one game out of 162,' " said Oates. "Probably nobody else cared except me, my family and my friends."
Not so. General manager Roland Hemond, who made thdecision to replace Frank Robinson with Oates, had a slight interest. He came into the clubhouse with a monstrous and sinful-looking concoction that appeared to be a cross between a banana split, strawberry shortcake, and a chocolate nut sundae with enough whipped cream to cover the pitcher's mound.
Milligan took one look at the victory dessert and said: "I haven'been eating much either, but I don't want a sundae, I want some beef."
It was Milligan's meaty home run off Charles Nagy (1-5) in ththird inning, following a walk to Joe Orsulak and an infield hit by Sam Horn, that put all of the buttons in place. The Indians had used a bunt single by Alex Cole, a stolen base and two ground balls to manufacture a run in the first inning. They didn't score again until Joel Skinner doubled in the seventh, shortly before Smith departed.
"The three-run homer was a cushion and got Roy relaxed," saiMilligan. "We've been playing hard, mentally tough, but we just haven't been getting the big hits. I'm not in a groove yet, but I'm definitely feeling better than I did two weeks ago."
The win was a welcome relief in the Orioles' clubhouse and givethem the opportunity to do something tonight -- win a series -- they've done only once this year. They could also match their longest winning streak of the year, which explains a lot about what's been going on.
This is not exactly heady stuff, and as enjoyable as last night's win was for Oates, he wasn't about to get carried away. "We've done a lot of good things the last four games," he said, "and if we keep doing that we'll throw in some extra hits and we won't lose three out of four.
"But I haven't even thought about a final record yet," said Oates. "I just want to see this team play the way it can play and win as many as we can.
"There are a lot of positive things -- we're catching ground balls, making double plays when we get the chance, Smitty gave us more than just a quality start, Kilgus came in and got us a big out [with a man on third and two out in the seventh inning], Frohwirth gave us an outstanding inning and Olson got the save.
"We've got to do that with more consistency," said the man who was given his first game ball as a major-league manager.
"I'll always remember this one," he said. "If I never get another one, I'll remember this one."
Of course, if he never gets another one John Oates probably won't have to worry about getting fired. He'd starve himself right out of baseball.