MINNEAPOLIS -- It was an eventful afternoon for infielder Mark McLemore, who delivered another big hit in the Orioles' 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins yesterday.
McLemore has made a habit of hitting in the clutch during the first month of the season, but the RBI single that knocked 20-game winner John Smiley out of the game in the fifth inning also provided a measure of redemption after his third-inning throwing error cost the Orioles a run.
His day swung back and forth like a metronome, which is not to be confused with the way the game swung back and forth at the Metrodome. McLemore also struck out twice with runners in scoring position and broke the wrong way on a ninth-inning single by Brian Harper, but that apparently did little to diminish the strong impression he has made on manager Johnny Oates during the past two months.
"I'm just glad we got him," Oates said. "He has played very well all- around. He's in a good frame of mind and he's doing the things I want him to do."
McLemore finished April with a .364 batting average and a .432 on-base percentage. He reached base five times in 10 plate appearances in the two victories over the Twins, but said it would have been a tough trip home if he had to carry a game-losing error with him.
"Personally, yeah," he said. "I gave up a run that should not have been given up -- a run in a game that ended up being a one-run game. I still don't like it, but we won, so I'll just make sure I don't do it again."
It was not an unforgivable play. Cal Ripken went well behind second base to cut off a ground ball by Kent Hrbek. McLemore was shading Hrbek toward first base and had to go a long way to take the double-play flip at second. He got the force, but spun around and threw wide of first base, allowing a run to score.
The Orioles fought back from a two-run deficit with a run in the fourth and McLemore's RBI single in the fifth, then rallied again to come from behind in the seventh and win in the ninth.
McLemore was all over the place. He made a great stop to start a double play in the fifth inning. He also came to the plate in two other pivotal situations and came up empty, but his eight RBI in 33 at-bats are a good indication he is having success in a solid percentage of those situations.
He has delivered some pressure hits, but he says he isn't feeling any pressure.
"The frame of mind I'm in is, they are counting on me and that gives me confidence that they have confidence in me," he said. "That has helped me a lot. In the past, it was the other way around. In the past, I was only there because they didn't have anybody else to put out there."
Oates has put him out there fairly regularly since Bill Ripken was knocked out of action briefly last week. McLemore has responded with eight hits in 18 at-bats (.444) and five RBI, and appears to have earned a more significant share of the playing time at second.
"He is playing very well for us," Oates said. "He brings a different dimension to the lineup. He's a switch-hitter who can run and who knows how to play the game. We're fortunate to have two utility men in Tim Hulett and 'Mack' who know how the game is meant to be played. If I tell them to start, they're ready to start. If I tell them to sit for five days, they can handle that."
McLemore batted in the No. 2 spot the past two games and the Orioles won them both, but it is too early to tell if he will be showing up there on any kind of regular basis. Ripken still is the everyday second baseman, though the situation is not as clearly defined as it was at the start of the season.