MINNEAPOLIS -- The Orioles must have felt as if they were lost in a fiberglass fun house, which had to feel strange and wonderful after several years of futility at the Metrodome.
It was only one game, but last night's 10-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins ended the Orioles' brief two-game losing streak and let a little air out of baseball's only inflatable stadium.
The Orioles came into the game with just six victories in their past 29 games here, but pounded on 20-game winner Scott Erickson and two Twins relievers to even the three-game series.
It wasn't a perfect performance -- not for the club and not for starting pitcher Mike Mussina -- but the evening included enough positive developments to assure the club of a pleasant flight home regardless of the outcome of today's series finale:
* Mussina won for the third time without a defeat, despite a rocky eighth inning that smudged an otherwise impressive performance.
* Shortstop Cal Ripken hit his first home run of the season, in the eighth inning, adding to the lopsided score and ending the longest season-opening homer drought of his career.
* Third baseman Leo Gomez ended an 0-for-16 string with back-to-back run-scoring doubles in the sixth and seventh that drove in three runs.
* Second baseman Mark McLemore played a little domeball with a seeing-eye bouncer through the infield that brought home two big runs in the sixth. He ranks fifth on the club with seven RBI, despite playing sparingly.
The victory assured the Orioles of a winning record on the nine-game road trip that ends today. Bob Milacki can give the club its sixth victory with a strong performance against 20-game winner John Smiley in the series finale this afternoon.
"I think tonight was a big ballgame for us," manager Johnny Oates said. "We started out 3-0, so you don't want to go home without something positive. Now, if we can go home 6-3 we've got to be real happy with ourselves."
Mussina was on his way to an outstanding performance when the explosive Twins lineup awakened with a three-run eighth and knocked him out of the game. He gave up just two runs on five hits through the first seven innings, but had to appreciate the tremendous offensive performance that had put the game out of reach.
"I got tired," he said, "but it was still a case of making poor pitches. Was it a great outing? No. I was bad. I won because they got me 10 runs. [Mike] Devereaux made a great catch in center field. Leo [Gomez] drove in three runs. I was real fortunate."
He is also a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist. The five-run performance broke his string of nine straight games in which he had given up fewer than two runs. He was not happy about that.
"I want to be as consistent as possible," he said. "In my mind, consistent is giving up two runs or less. It's not going to happen very often that I'm going to give up five runs like that and get a win."
The matchup between Mussina and Erickson made for some interesting comparisons. Erickson came up and pitched impressively in the second half of the 1990 season, then broke through with 20 victories last year. Mussina pitched well during the second half of the 1991 season and has gotten off to a strong start in his first full season at the major-league level.
Could he be on his way to the same kind of breakthrough season?
"It's certainly not out of the realm of reality," Oates said before last night's game. "If he were pitching with mirrors, you'd say it was a real long shot. But he's not pitching with mirrors. He's pitching with talent.
This is not just wishful thinking on the part of the Orioles manager. Mussina got the same kind of rave reviews from a more objective observer before the game.
"I like him better than Erickson," said veteran scout Mel Didier, who is scouting both the Twins and the Orioles for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Don't get me wrong, I like Erickson, but this kid, he has a presence on the mound. Erickson can get a little excited on the mound when he walks guys or something goes wrong. The other guy, you don't see that. He could win 20 games. He has the stuff."
That much was apparent again last night, when Mussina carried a shutout into the fifth inning.
The string of nine starts in which he had given up two runs or fewer dated to Sept. 6 of last year, but it came to an end when shortstop Greg Gagne hit a two-run homer in the fifth and Kirby Puckett hit a two-run shot in the eighth.
The Orioles had gotten to Erickson much sooner, scoring three times with two out in the third. David Segui opened the inning with his team's first hit of the game, but the inning appeared to fizzle when fill-in catcher Jeff Tackett popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt and Brady Anderson bounced out to first base.