If there was anything the Baltimore Orioles coveted during three one-run losses in their previous series at Minnesota, it was a clutch hit.
Their kingdom for a two-out run producer in a close game.
Last night, their wish was granted when Dwight Evans and just-recalled Leo Gomez both delivered when it counted, spurring the Orioles to a 6-4 victory over the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
The starting pitching has been good. The relief corps has been sensational. And despite two errors by David Segui in left field last night, the defense has been creditable.
What had been lacking was the big hit at the right time since the Orioles won five of seven games from the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
"These kinds of hits are all we need to put us over the top," said manager John Oates.
But Evans wouldn't even have been in the game had first baseman Randy Milligan not sprained his thumb in the third inning while diving for a run-scoring single by Rance Mulliniks that lifted the Jays into a 4-2 lead.
But there was Evans in right field after Milligan was forced to leave the game. Joe Orsulak shifted to left and Segui from left to first, where he got a reprieve from what he called "one of those nights. You throw it away and come back."
With two on and one out in the fifth, Toronto manager Cito Gaston replaced starter Jim Acker with rookie Mike Timlin to face streaking Cal Ripken.
Timlin got Ripken to pop out, but hit Orsulak with a pitch to load the bases for Evans, the Orioles' top hitter (he's 3-for-4 with seven RBI) in that situation.
"I just like to go out there and not think about my statistics. Don't tell me what they are," said Evans. "I really think the hitter has the advantage there because the pitcher has to throw a strike. You just know you have the upper hand."
For a while, Timlin had it, getting ahead 1-2 before Evans singled to left to tie the game and clenched his fist in triumph after making the turn around first base.
Evans had told Oates he wanted to play, but the manager had made up his mind to "rest him."
Timlin then walked Sam Horn to reload the bases for Gomez, who hit an 0-2 pitch into left field for a two-run game-winner.
"I had to swing because it would have been strike three," said Gomez of his first RBI of the season as an Oriole.
"I'm happy I played today because when you play something good happens. I'm seeing the ball better. When you do that, everything looks like a basketball coming in there. It works great."
From that point, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens, and neither flinched. Four Orioles relievers preserved Bob Milacki's second victory by allowing only two base-runners in 2 2/3 innings, and Gregg Olson finished by striking out the side in the ninth.
It was a struggle for Milacki, who weathered six hits in the first three innings, plus two errors and another missed play by Segui that contributed to all the Blue Jay scoring.
"I just tried to get us in a winning mode again," said Milacki. "I kept us close enough to stay in the game."
Segui dropped a line drive by Roberto Alomar that "went into the lights until it got five feet in front of me. I had a good idea where it was, but it hit the heel of the glove."
Joe Carter doubled in Alomar, and Segui was charged with another error when he couldn't pick up the carom while backing up Mike Devereaux. Carter later scored the Blue Jays' last run on the play that injured Milligan.
One inning earlier -- in the second -- Segui turned the wrong way on a double by Mulliniks that was the central hit in Toronto's first two-run inning.
"I was having trouble reading it," he said. "I couldn't pick it up over the top of the stadium. By that time, it was too late."
But the Orioles responded to that surge with a home run by Sam Horn (his last five hits have been for extra bases) off Acker, a
triple by Gomez that Mookie Wilson had trouble picking up in left and Segui's sacrifice fly.
"I feel like I can play out there,"said Segui. "It wasn't like I wanted out of it [when he moved to first to a smattering of boos]. It just seemed like everything was falling against me. I never have those kinds of problems on the road."
As it turned out, Segui's troubles were academic to a team that, for one game at least, completed the winning formula with clutch hits.
Blue Jays second: Carter walked. Carter stole second. Mulliniks doubled to left, Carter scored. Myers singled to left, Mulliniks to third. Olerud struck out. Sprague doubled to right center, Mulliniks scored, Myers to third. Lee struck out. White grounded out to shortstop C.Ripken. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Blue Jays 2, Orioles 0.
Orioles second: Milligan struck out. Horn homered to left center on 0-0 count. Gomez tripled to left. Segui hit sacrifice fly to left fielder Wilson, Gomez scored. Hoiles walked. Devereaux grounded out to third baseman Sprague. 2 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 2, Blue Jays 2.
Blue Jays third: Wilson grounded out to second baseman Hulett. Alomar safe on left fielder Segui's fielding error. Carter doubled to center, Alomar scored; on left fielder Segui's fielding error, Carter to third. Mulliniks singled to right, Carter scored. Myers struck out. Olerud struck out. 2 runs, 2 hits, 2 errors, 1 left on.
Blue Jays 4, Orioles 2.
Orioles fifth: Hoiles walked. Devereaux lined out to left fielder Wilson. Hulett singled to left, Hoiles to second. Timlin relieved Acker. C.Ripken popped out to second baseman Alomar. Orsulak hit by pitch, Hoiles to third, Hulett to second. Evans singled to left, Hoiles and Hulett scored, Orsulak to second. Horn walked, Orsulak to third, Evans to second. Gomez singled to left, Orsulak and Evans scored, Horn to second. MacDonald relieved Timlin. Segui flied out to right fielder Carter. 4 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 6, Blue Jays 4.