For Sam Horn, it has always been feast or famine. The home runs are plentiful, but so are the strikeouts.
As the Orioles start a road trip tonight in Boston (7:35, Ch. 2), Horn has the momentum generated by a prosperous homestand. His two-run homer in yesterday's 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians was the final flourish.
Horn played in eight of the 10 games on the homestand and batted .391, with two doubles, five home runs and 11 RBIs. He had an extra-base hit in seven of those eight games.
"For most of his career, Sam has put up the numbers -- the home runs and RBIs," manager John Oates said. "If he does that, you can live with the rest of it."
The rest of it, of course, is strikeouts. With 86, Horn ranks third on the club behind Mike Devereaux (96) and Randy Milligan (95). He has built that total in only 284 at-bats, 250 fewer than Devereaux and 150 fewer than Milligan.
On the plus side, Horn is second to Cal Ripken in home runs, 29 to 21, and third in RBIs with 57 behind Ripken (98) and Milligan (67). He has hit 35 home runs as an Oriole, or one every 15.1 at-bats.
Before erupting during the homestand, Horn languished on the bench. Oates was trying to give the returning Glenn Davis a lot of at-bats, Milligan was hitting well and Horn himself was in a 1-for-18 snooze.
"But when we called on him, he was ready," Oates said.
"When I was sitting," Horn said, "I had a lot of time to think. I promised myself when I got back in, I'd make the best of it. I knew my concentration had to be high.
"It just happened. I got a pinch hit and the next day I was in there. I got in a groove."
Arthur Rhodes might have been the beneficiary of Horn's home run yesterday had he not served No. 26 to Cleveland's Albert Belle with two men aboard in the first inning. The 21-year-old lefthander settled down and allowed only two more hits until the seventh when, with the score tied 3-3, Oates summoned Mark Williamson with two Indians on base via a walk and a single.
Rhodes' fifth major-league start was his longest (6 2/3 innings) and best. He threw 100 pitches, allowed three runs and five hits and struck out eight.
"I had seen a little improvement in Rhodes every time, but my first reaction this time was that it was too much," Oates said. "It was like one, two, three, four . . . eight. There was no comparison to his first four."
Catcher Chris Hoiles turned pitching coach after the first inning and told Rhodes he thought he was gripping the ball too tightly on his curve.
"His curveballs were bouncing in front of the plate," Hoiles said. "I mentioned to him that maybe he was throwing it too hard. After that, he threw the curve for strikes. He even got his changeup over, and that made his fastball even faster. It was by far his best outing."
Hoiles' advice was on the money. Sixty of Rhodes' 100 pitches were strikes. Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove had "heard he'd walked everybody in the ballpark in his other starts," but to the Indians' regret Rhodes walked only three yesterday.
"He threw more breaking balls for strikes than he did in his previous four starts combined," Oates said.
Acknowledged Rhodes, who is still looking for his first major-league victory: "I was holding the ball too tight on the curve. I loosened up and started throwing it in the strike zone."
After his first three starts, Rhodes studied film of his delivery. He realized he was holding the ball too long in his glove, then rushing and bringing his arm across his body.
"I was nervous, too," Rhodes said. "This one will get me over the hump. I'll settle down now. Next time out I'm going to think about this start and do the same thing."
The only two pitchers scheduled to take their regular turns the rest of the season, however, are Bob Milacki and Mike Mussina. Oates intends to keep Rhodes out of harm's way. He will not, for example, face the Red Sox this week in Boston.
"Not with all those righthanded hitters up there," Oates said. "I'd rather use Dave Johnson, since his career stats show some success against the Red Sox. I'm going to pick spots where Rhodes has the best chance to succeed."
Williamson picked up yesterday's victory when Devereaux scored in the eighth inning on Ripken's sacrifice fly to centerfield. It was a short fly ball, but third base coach Cal Ripken daringly sent Devereaux home anyway.
"Once in a while you've got to be aggressive," Oates said. "You can't say anything bad about a decision like that when the runner makes it."
Oates felt the one-run win was better for the club -- "if not for my stomach" -- than an 8-0 breeze. Playing in a tight game and winning it can be most beneficial. "A growing process," Oates called it.