It's early May, and it's way too soon to start scoreboard watching.
That's what Orioles manager Johnny Oates tells himself and his players.
But games such as yesterday's 8-6 win over the Seattle Mariners, before another sellout crowd of 45,352 at Oriole Park, make the mind wonder when thoughts of first place and pennants can begin.
"Last year at this time, we weren't thinking about first place," said first baseman Randy Milligan. "We were thinking about when the season was going to be over. It's a lot easier to come to the ballpark this year."
Why shouldn't it be? The Orioles are in the midst of a hot streak, having won five straight and 13 of their past 16, a run that has taken them to the top of the American League East, albeit by just 13 percentage points over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Frankly, no one's really sure when it will end.
"We keep asking, 'Which comes first? The wins or the [winning] attitude?' " said Oates. "One of our goals coming out of spring training was to develop a winning attitude.
"Usually, when you have a team that doesn't have three or four super-super-superstars, you have to get production from everybody. That's what it takes. Look at the Twins last year. It was people like [Scott] Leius or Al Newman that got the job done. It didn't matter who it was. Whenever they had to have it, they got it."
So far this season, the Orioles have been getting it when they need it, especially at Camden Yards, where their record is 9-1.
That philosophy was the essence of yesterday's win, in which they charged out to a 6-0 lead after two innings, then spent the rest of the afternoon beating back the pesky Mariners.
Mike Mussina (4-0) got the win, but he needed the help of closer Gregg Olson, who became the youngest pitcher to earn 100 career saves.
"We were fortunate to get out big the way we did," said Mussina. "My stuff wasn't that good, but at least I settled down. And we had Otter [Olson]. It's great that he has 100 of them [saves]. I hope I'm around to see him get 200."
Olson choked off the last Seattle threat in the eighth with the potential tying run at second and one out, with a strikeout of
pinch hitter Pete O'Brien and a force out by shortstop Rich Amaral, about 18 hours after getting career save No. 99 Saturday night.
"That's my job, to go as many days as they need me," said Olson.
Early on, it appeared that the Orioles wouldn't need Olson's help, as they stormed out to five first-inning runs, powered by a two-out, bases-loaded triple by Tim Hulett.
In the second inning, Cal Ripken hit his first Oriole Park homer, a bases-empty shot to left field. Mariners starter Rich DeLucia (1-3) left after the inning, and with the way Mussina set Seattle down in the first two innings, it looked as if the day would go smoothly.
But Seattle came back in the third. Amaral and second baseman Harold Reynolds singled with one out, bringing Henry Cotto, a last-second replacement for injured center fielder Ken Griffey, to the plate.
Cotto slapped a textbook double-play grounder to third baseman Hulett, who bobbled the ball, then compounded the mistake by throwing the ball into short right field. Amaral scored on the play.
Mussina could have gotten out of the inning with minimal damage, but instead gave up a triple to third baseman Edgar Martinez, which scored Reynolds and Cotto. Kevin Mitchell then grounded out, scoring Martinez, and the Mariners were back in the game, trailing 6-4.
"That's when I lost it, after the would-be, could-be double play," -- said Mussina. "It's my job to pick us up. I'm disappointed that I couldn't come through right then."
But Mussina hung tough over the next four innings, allowing just a fourth-inning single by Jay Buhner and Martinez's second triple, in the fifth.
In the seventh, Milligan, who had not played in the field since his collision with Bill Ripken 12 days ago, celebrated his return to first base with a bases-empty home run to center that would hold up as the game-winning run.
Milligan, who handled three unassisted grounders without a hitch, said he felt good about his seven-inning stretch in the field.
"The more innings I played, the better I felt," said Milligan. "It was good that I had my hometown crowd behind me."
Martinez, who hit .538 in the three-game series, led off the Seattle eighth with a single to left, and Oates yanked Mussina for reliever Todd Frohwirth, who gave up a double to Mitchell, scoring Martinez to cut the lead to 7-5.
Tino Martinez grounded back to Frohwirth, but Buhner singled to right to score Mitchell, and the Mariners had closed the gap to 7-6. Frohwirth was lifted for Mike Flanagan, who walked pinch hitter Dave Cochrane.
Then came Olson, who rarely pitches longer than one inning, to get O'Brien swinging and Amaral on a fielder's choice to end the threat.
The Orioles got another insurance run in the eighth. Hulett led off with a single to left. Catcher Jeff Tackett advanced him to second on a sacrifice bunt, then Brady Anderson continued the rally with a single to the hole that was knocked down by Amaral.
Mark McLemore laid down a perfect squeeze bunt, scoring Hulett, and Anderson took third, as McLemore beat the throw to first. In the ninth, Olson overcame Hulett's second error to end the game, striking out Mitchell, the potential tying run.