The Orioles came to the ballpark yesterday with their imaginations whirring for the first time in a while. That's what happens when it's still early in the season and you finally win a game after stacking up a passel of losses.
Your imagination starts up. You start thinking about a parlay, turning the win into some momentum, another win, maybe even -- hold on now -- three or four in a row. You start thinking about making some noise. Finally.
It is one of the game's most appealing aspects. What happened last week doesn't necessarily matter. Neither does the great morass of statistics. Things change. The form chart often makes no difference.
The Texas Rangers had that 100-loss look when the Orioles crossed their path in April. The same Rangers just won 14 straight.
So, last night, the Orioles were thinking about turning a win into a couple. Maybe they'd even peeked at the standings. (Ten and a half back, could be worse.) What else were they supposed to do? They'd had the majors' worst record a couple of nights earlier, but now they'd played a few sound games in a row and, well, with four months left in baseball's worst division, they'd better still be dreaming.
Besides, they aren't the laughingstock they've resembled. They aren't baseball's worst. The optimism they engendered in the spring wasn't entirely misguided. It's just that injuries and slumps have struck the wrong people and the pitching hasn't held up and, well, do we really need to go over it all again? The point is that a season consists of ups and downs for any team, and the Orioles are due for a run of up.
"And you have to start somewhere," manager John Oates was saying, sitting in his office three hours before the game. "We won a ballgame, but usually one game isn't going to turn you around. I look at the bigger picture. We've played well in every game
except the first [he managed]. We're getting good pitching. We aren't making errors. We're throwing to the right bases. All we missed were some clutch hits."
So the imagination does start whirring. You look for signs, for reasons -- reasonable reasons, as Yogi Berra might say -- to start believing that any win could indeed be parlayed into three or four. A start. (Forget that they're spending the next week in Boston and Minnesota, where they have won 11 of 50 games since 1987. This is about imagination, right?)
You look at Randy Milligan's three-run homer Tuesday, how his average is slowly rising. You look at the four strong innings Mark Williamson pitched Monday, how he says he's straightened out his problems. You look at an entire sweep through the starting rotation without one of those two-inning bomb-outsthat had become so customary.
As the manager said, you have to start somewhere. Giving yourself a chance is the place. The Orioles had won back-to-back games only twice in their first 42 games, and on the occasion of their previous win before Tuesday's, in Detroit, they found themselves down, 6-0, in the second inning the next night. No shot at a parlay there. Just the start of another losing streak.
Jeff Robinson was the starting pitcher empowered with preventing another such debacle last night, and he was up to it. Throwing curveballs for strikes, using a forkball and fastball to mix speeds, he stayed ahead of the Indians hitters and out of trouble. He allowed a run in the third inning, but after a two-out single in the fourth, he retired the next 11 batters. Another strong start. That's five in a row.
It took all of the Orioles' meager hitting strength to top the run Robinson allowed, but they managed it. Cal Ripken Jr. hit a homer in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score, and then a double by Sam Horn and a well-placed, bouncing single by Bob Melvin in the seventh pushed across the last run. The bullpen held up, and the Orioles had a 2-1 win. Two in a row. Sure, it's only Cleveland. You have to start somewhere.
Afterward, Oates gave virtually the same speech he'd given before the game. Looks better. Consistent pitching. Errorless defense. "We're building, we're building," Oates said. "I like what I see. It's nice to win two in a row, but really nice to have played five in a row like tonight. Youget good pitching and defense, and it mushrooms. Who knows where it goes from here?"
At this point, the Orioles are just looking for a parlay. For any shred of reason to believe. For a spark that doesn't flame out, as all the others have this year. They aren't picky. Roy Smith and Todd Frohwirth come up from Rochester and come up big. It wasn't in the blueprints, but who knows, maybe it's a start. Dwight Evans makes a diving catch in the ninth inning to prevent a rally from starting last night. Who knows, maybe it's a start.
It's on to Boston now, and that usually means trouble, but what is left for the Orioles this season if they don't give their imaginations a workout? The Red Sox lost to the Yankees last night, so the Orioles picked up a game in the standings. Nine and a half back, could be worse. And there are reports Glenn Davis is gaining strength in his shoulder. You take your little victories. "We're just hoping to keep building," Oates said. What else can they do?