ARLINGTON, Texas -- For most of this season, Jolting Joe Orsulak and the Orioles followed the same pattern.
"We haven't had a lot of consistency," said the outfielder, who has generally been just that since midway through 1988, his first season with the club. "We've been up and down."
Mostly the latter.
But suddenly, despite their ineptness against Milwaukee, the Orioles are taking on a look of respectability. They have come up with a set of five starters who, at the very least, can challenge hitters. Glenn Davis is back in the lineup after a four-month absence.
And Orsulak seems to have found a home in the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He extended his career-high hitting streak to 19 games last night -- just in time for the Orioles to beat the Texas Rangers 4-3.
The win concluded a road trip that began dismally with four successive losses, and ended with a pair of encouraging wins. It was a two-run double by Orsulak in the sixth inning that enabled the Orioles to come from behind for the second straight night.
"It helps a little bit," said Orsulak, when asked if the late-season signs of progress take some of the sting out of what has been a disappointing year. "It's real good to have Glenn back and the young guys are pitching good."
And Orsulak is finding a way to get in the middle of a lot of what's been happening. On Aug. 1 he was hitting .245. Since then he's batting at a .387 pace (29-for-75) to lift his overall average to a highly respectable .273.
It may or may not be a coincidence, but in 12 of the 19 straight games in which he's hit safely, Orsulak has batted in the No. 2 spot. With Cal Ripken and Davis teamed again as the 3-4 hitters, that's not a bad place to be.
"I like hitting No. 2," admitted Orsulak. "I thought I'd hit there a lot this year. I certainly didn't figure to hit 3-4-5. Second or sixth, that's where I figured to be hitting."
That, however, was before Davis was sidelined after playing only 12 games. Orsulak has batted fourth as recently as last weekend in Milwaukee, before Davis returned.
With Davis out, the Orioles' potential No. 2 hitters (Randy Milligan opened the season in that role) moved down to fill the power slots. Nobody benefited from the shuffle.
"I was horrible the first half," said Orsulak, refusing to cop any excuses. "You keep thinking you've got to get untracked, and when you finally do, everything seems to fall in place.
"I was thinking I couldn't be that bad the whole season -- at least I hoped not."
The hitting streak has reached such proportions that it is now the longest current streak in the major leagues and the third longest this year in the American League. It is the longest by an Oriole since Lee Lacy hit in 20 straight games in 1985 and only three short of the club record shared by Eddie Murray (1982) and Doug DeCinces (1978-79).
"It's nice, but it's not something I concentrate on," said Orsulak. "It's nothing earth-shattering. I've been pretty lucky, getting one hit a game."
He's done that for the last five games, going only 5-for-22 (.227), prompting a quip from manager John Oates. "He better watch out or he'll be like Rico Petrocelli and hit in 30 straight games and have his average drop 15 points," Oates said of the former Red Sox shortstop/third baseman.
And how would Oates know about Petrocelli, who played a generation ago?
"I read about him in a book," said Oates.
There wasn't any luck involved with Orsulak's game-winning hit last night. He drilled a 3-and-2 fastball into the rightfield corner off Kevin Brown (8-10) just when it looked like the Orioles were going to settle into another routine loss.
The hit was set up by a crucial error by Texas second baseman Julio Franco, who dropped a throw at second on what should have been a routine force play on a ground ball by Mike Devereaux. Instead of two outs and a man on first (who probably would've been held at third under different circumstances), Brown had to deal with Orsulak -- knowing that Ripken and Davis were behind him.
That's a situation that can be as comfortable for a hitter as it is uncomfortable for a pitcher. "He picked the right time to extend his streak," Oates said of Orsulak's two-base hit.
Neither Orsulak nor the Orioles can do anything about events that dictated the first half of the year. At this point there is only one thing that can be salvaged.
It's called respectability, and it can only be gained one game at a time. Just like a hitting streak.