The Baltimore Orioles' road to respectablity begins with their current homestand, a 10-gamer that represents their last extended stay at Memorial Stadium.
And the Orioles launched it with a flourish last night, roughing up Bret Saberhagen for three homers 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.
Mussina had departed by then, requiring Jim Poole's help to escape a jam in the top of the inning. Poole came in with two on and one out to strike out Kirk Gibson and retire George Brett on a fly ball.
Then the Orioles rallied, 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.
Saberhagen then hit Dwight Evans with a pitch and Horn followed by working the count to 2-2 before sending a high fly ball that landed just fair and put the game out of reach.
Poole earned the victory, his first in the major leagues, yielding to Gregg Olson for the ninth.
Mussina and Saberhagen were locked at 2-2 into the seventh inning with home runs accounting three of the runs.
Saberhagen had not allowed two homers in a game since May 1, 1990 before Joe Orsulak tagged him for his fourth of the season and Davis for his seventh.
With one out in the second, Orsulak hit a breaking ball over the right-field fence, and Davis connected to the same area with one out in the sixth.
In the first, Saberhagen, who has beaten the Orioles in six of
their last seven meetings, loaded the bases with two out on singles by Ripken and Davis and a walk to Evans. But Horn, the team's leading batter against Saberhagen, struck out to halt the threat.
Oriole-killer Danny Tartabull solved Mussina for a fourth-inning homer on an 0-2 pitch, a slicing drive into the right-field bleachers.
Tartabull has five homers against Oriole pitching this year and came into the game with a .485 batting average against Baltimore.
Kansas City scored the game's first run in the second inning on doubles by Todd Benzinger and Brent Mayne, almost identical opposite-field drives into left.
These two teams had played some wild games this season. In four of the nine meetings, they had been tied, 8-8, after nine innings.
This time, the pitchers were in command as the Orioles opened a 10-game homestand.
Saberhagen pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox two starts previously and the team was 14-9 in games he started.
The Orioles had equaled their low point of the year -- 25 games under .500 -- and were threatening to break the record for defeats at home in a single season (51).
But Mussina was unyielding in his duel with Saberhagen, permitting only four hits through seven in another match-up with a top-flight opponent.
His seven mound foes, including Saberhagen, had a combined 61-37 record entering the night.
zTC In Mussina's four losses, the Orioles had given him a total of seven runs.
Both teams had dropped four of their previous five games and the Orioles were seeking their first home victory of the year against Kansas City.