MINNEAPOLIS -- If John Oates could get Cal Ripken at bat every inning maybe he could figure a way to get the Orioles a few more runs.
"Every time I look up, it seems like he's on base," the Orioles manager said of his All-Star shortstop. "We've just got to get a few back-to-back hits to get us back on track."
Going into tonight's game (8:35, HTS), the Orioles need a win to post a winning record on this seven-game road trip. Winning three out of four in Boston has almost been forgotten in the wake of two straight one-run losses to the Twins.
That makes five one-run losses in the seven games the Orioles have dropped since Oates became manager, and it is a source of concern. "You worry about people starting to have doubts and getting down on themselves. A few more hits and we'll be all right," Oates said.
What stings the Orioles so much right now is that Ripken's bat is on fire. He had his second straight three-hit game last night and is now leading the American League with a .359 average.
But that alone isn't enough. The only time Ripken batted with a man on base last night he drove in the tying run with the first of two doubles. And there is the nagging fear that when runners do get on base, the opposition is going to be a lot more selective against Ripken.
The league's hottest hitter will face righthander Kevin Tapani (2-6, 3.93) as the Orioles try to salvage the final game of the series against the red-hot Twins. It will be up to Jose Mesa (4-5, 4.06) to try to control the Twins, who have now won seven of their last eight.
After tonight's game, the Orioles will play 10 of their next 13 at home, starting with a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays that begins tomorrow night.