The Baltimore Orioles' road to respectability begins with their current homestand, a 10-gamer that represents their final extended stay at Memorial Stadium.
And the Orioles launched it with a flourish last night, roughing up Bret Saberhagen for three home runs and a four-run eighth inning in a 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
It was a pitched battle between Saberhagen and Mike Mussina until the eighth, when Sam Horn capped the decisive burst with a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole.
Horn had been practically a forgotten man since Glenn Davis returned from the disabled list. He has not started since Aug. 18, and had only one hit since Aug. 10, a pinch single.
"I still go up there to do the best I can," said Horn, who has four homers in 19 lifetime at-bats against Saberhagen. "Moose [Randy Milligan] calls me 'Feast or Famine'. You can't hit the ball if you don't swing. Sometimes, I get lucky."
Mussina had departed by Horn's at-bat, requiring Jim Poole's help to escape a jam in the top of the inning. Poole, the winning pitcher, came in with two on and one out to strike out Kirk Gibson and retire George Brett on a fly ball.
Then the Orioles strung together a rally, ignited by Cal Ripken's double into the left-field corner.
The next batter, Glenn Davis, hit a shot down the third-base line that struck the bag and bounced high over Sean Berry's head. By the time shortstop Kurt Stillwell recovered the ball, Ripken was en route home with the tie-breaking run.
It was the third hit of the game for Davis who said he "was kind of laughing to myself when I got to second. I guess you call that double a real 'base' hit."
Davis has singled, doubled and homered twice in the past three games.
Saberhagen then hit Dwight Evans with a pitch and Horn worked the count to 2-2 before sending up a fly ball that landed just fair and put the game out of reach.
Poole's victory was hist first in the major leagues. Gregg Olson pitched the ninth, allowing a single to Danny Tartabull, but faced only three batters.
Earlier, Joe Orsulak's first homer since June 16 and an opposite-field homer by Davis kept Mussina even with Saberhagen, who had not permitted three homers in a game since April 4, 1988, when George Bell went deep three times.
Davis was encouraged by his shot, his first homer at Memorial Stadium since April 19.
"Any time you hit the ball to the opposite field, you're doing things correctly," he said. "I'm trying to make adjustments instead of being too aggressive."
The Royals scored against Mussina on doubles by Todd Benzinger and Brent Mayne in the second and on a one-out homer by Tartabull in the fourth, another opposite-field shot on an 0-2 pitch.
It was Tartabull's fifth homer against the Orioles this season. He has a .487 batting average in the series.
Mussina refused to crack, keeping the Orioles abreast until he walked Warren Cromartie and allowed a single to Brian McRae to bring on Poole.
Poole did his job, retiring the 58th and 59th of 72 batters he has faced this season.
But Mussina had pitched into at least the seventh for the fifth time in seven starts -- against opposing starters with a combined record of 61-37. The Orioles have provided him with only seven runs in his four defeats.
"He's pitched very well in six out of seven," said Oates. "He missed with his fastball tonight more than in previous starts, but after that, everything becomes positive.
"He had enough stuff that he could miss location and get away with it."
"When I missed, I missed where I wanted to throw the ball and not back over the middle of the plate," said Mussina."