It was a night for rookie power and rookie memories.
Chito Martinez and Leo Gomez supplied the power and Bob Milacki brought back memories of his rookie year in the Orioles' 5-2 win over the California Angels last night. The three provided a combination that has been rare this season -- solid pitching and timely hitting that featured a pair of home runs.
Martinez and Gomez figured in all of the scoring and each hit a home run as the Orioles broke a three-game losing streak against an unlikely opponent -- lefthander Chuck Finley. It was only the second time in seven decisions that the Orioles have been able to beat Finley, who thereby failed to become the major leagues' first 14-game winner.
For different, though not necessarily valid, reasons Martinez and Gomez were unlikely heroes against Finley. Martinez is only the fifth lefthanded hitter to homer against Finley in the big leagues and Gomez went into the game seemingly locked in a 4-for-42 (.095) slump during the last 10 games.
Martinez was the only lefthanded hitter in the Orioles' lineup -- but only because manager John Oates couldn't find enough numbers to justify his suspicion that lefthanders might be more effective against Finley.
"If I'm still sitting in this [manager's] chair 10 years from now I might do what Sparky Anderson did against Tommy John," said Oates, taking his memory back to the final days of his playing career. "Sparky would come in and play all seven of those lefthanded hitters the Tigers had -- and T.J. couldn't find a way to get them out.
"I thought about it [using lefthanders], but I couldn't find anybody with any numbers," said Oates. The reason is simple -- the Orioles' lefthanded hitters have only a token number of at-bats against either Finley or Jim Abbott, who pitched the night before.
Going into last night's game, lefthanded hitters were hitting 52 points higher than righthanders (.288-.236) against Finley, whose toughest pitch is a forkball. But those numbers were based on only 66 at-bats, a strong indication that nobody else has yet been tempted to try the reverse-platoon strategy.
Martinez hadn't faced Finley before, and Oates has been using him against all types of pitchers anyhow, so he wasn't in the lineup by default. His contributions were a double into the left-centerfield gap to set up the first run (which scored on Cal Ripken's "wrong way" double down the rightfield line) and a home run sliced into the leftfield corner to break a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning.
"You've got to like those short porches on both sides," said Martinez. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run. I was just trying to get a hit, so maybe Cal could do it.
"Hitting in front of Cal and Randy [Milligan] helps me a lot," said Martinez. "I'm going to see a lot of better pitches with those two guys behind me."
Oates has been using Martinez in the No. 2 slot lately and has been impressed with what he's seen. "He keeps swinging the bat and he continues to impress against quality pitchers," said Oates. "You've got to keep him in the lineup. You'd like to see him do that for about 10 more years. Tonight he hit his home run in the right ballpark, in the right direction, at the right time."
An inning after Martinez put the Orioles ahead to stay, Gomez wrapped it up with a towering two-run blast to leftfield. It came on a 3-and-0 pitch, an unusual time for a rookie to be swinging. "There's nothing to lose in that situation," said Oates.
It looked like the classic case of a hitter jumping on a pitch that was grooved merely for the sake of throwing a strike. But such was not the case, according to Finley.
"I wasn't trying to just get it over, because that [Juan] Bell guy was on deck," said Finley, referring to the Orioles' light-hitting (.130) second baseman. "I was trying to throw the ball low and away. But it came back over the plate and he jumped on it."
Despite the fact he had two hits and a sacrifice fly earlier, Gomez admitted he wasn't expecting to swing in that situation. "I was surprised because I've been in a slump," said the third baseman. "In Triple A they used to let me swing 3-and-0 a lot. It's nice that Johnny has enough confidence to let me hit in that situation."
The home runs were nice, especially since the Orioles scored more than four runs for only the second time in their last 11 games. But still the most encouraging part of the night was the performance by Milacki (6-4). Quietly the big righthander has started to provide something that has been sorely lacking -- consistency in the starting rotation.
The Orioles have won seven of the last 10 games Milacki has started (he is 5-2 over that stretch). It isn't hard to get flashbacks.
"What I've seen in his last three or four starts is what I saw in 1988 [when he was Milacki's manager at Rochester] and what the Orioles saw late that year and in 1989," said Oates. "He's had a little extra on his slider and good control."
Milacki shuns any idea that he's become a "stopper" on a staff that lacks one, but admits he's feeling more comfortable. "I think the big thing is that my mechanics are sound now," he said. "I had four pitches I could throw for strikes and when I missed, it was down and away, not up and over the plate."
That's the way it was in 1989, when Milacki was a rookie trying to establish himself. Just like Martinez and Gomez are trying to do in what is left of this season.