ARLINGTON, Texas -- If Kevin Brown had stayed in the bullpen two more minutes, it might have been different.
If Kevin Reimer's fly ball in the eighth inning had spun about five fewer revolutions, it might have been different.
And if Rick Sutcliffe hadn't had four quick runs to work with, it might have been different.
But so far this has been a different kind of year for the Orioles, and the ifs all seem to be coming up in their favor -- and last night was just the most recent example.
Brown gave up four runs after throwing only seven pitches; Reimer missed a game-tying home run by no more than the width of the leftfield foul pole; Sutcliffe hung around until the eighth inning to get the win when Gregg Olson escaped with his seventh save.
All of which combined to give the Orioles a 4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers, their 11th win in the last 14 games. It also enabled the Orioles (22-11) to remain one game behind Toronto in the American League East.
When it was all over, Brown (5-3) was left wondering if he cut his pre-game warmup too short. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux, a single to Cal Ripken and a home run to Sam Horn (No. 2). After those first four hitters, the Orioles didn't get a ball in the air until the fifth inning as Brown retired 24 of the last 27 hitters he faced.
"It's not very often you make two bad pitches [to Devereaux and Horn] and get down four runs," said Brown. "You don't make perfect pitches every time, but you try to minimize the number of bad pitches."
Sutcliffe managed to make those four runs stand up, even though he admitted he wasn't on top of his game. "It was a struggle all the way," said the veteran righthander. "That's probably the worst fastball I've had all year."
Still, Sutcliffe managed to escape trouble, of which there was plenty. He got Ruben Sierra and Reimer to hit soft fly balls with runners on second and third in the first inning and had runners on base in every inning except the sixth.
In the seventh, Rafael Palmeiro and Sierra hit back-to-back home runs and Sutcliffe was finished after walking Jeff Huson to lead off the eighth. "He's the toughest pitcher for me to figure out," manager John Oates said of Sutcliffe.
"I've been saying that ever since spring training, because you can't tell whether he's losing it, or doing it on purpose. He knows which hitters he wants to pitch to, and on what counts."
But after the home runs, Oates didn't need any more evidence to convince him Sutcliffe wouldn't be going the distance. "Huson was his last hitter, no matter what happened -- even if he struck him out," said Oates.
"If he was taking me out because my stuff was bad, he could've taken me out in the beginning," said Sutcliffe (5-2). "It actually got a little better as the game went on.
"With the early lead, I had a good opportunity to get a complete game. It should have been a quiet night in the bullpen."
From the next locker, Storm Davis, one of five pitchers who warmed up during the game, quipped: "It's never a quiet night out there when you pitch."
The look on Sutcliffe's face indicated he had a rejoinder, but thought better of it -- no doubt because Davis presides as the judge in the Orioles' "Kangaroo Court."
"And I've got to locker next to him," was the best Sutcliffe would offer.
The best that Brown had to offer after the first inning was more than the Orioles could handle, but nobody could pinpoint the difference.
"I don't know," said Horn, "those things happen sometimes. He's a good pitcher, so you know he's going to bounce back. He came back and closed the door and kept them in the game."
It was left for Olson to close the door on the Rangers, and it wasn't without a nervous ending. This one, however, could be blamed more on the elements than the reliever.
After Mike Flanagan got Palmeiro on a ground ball, Olson entered the game and retired Sierra on an infield pop. Reimer then delivered his scare.
The wind was blowing from left to right, so Reimer's bid to tie the game was pushed in two directions. It crossed the foul line just before entering the stands.
"When he hit it I thought 'routine fly,' " said Olson. "Then I saw it was going to be tight and I went over to look at it and I knew it was either going to scrape the pole or be barely foul."
Olson might not have been paying as much attention to leftfielder Anderson as Oates was during the game. None of his seven chances was routine, so Reimer's ball was adventuresome when it left the bat.
Oates was asked what his first thought was when the ball was hit.
"Go foul," he said.
And it did.
The difference between the Orioles this year and last is a lot more than the distance between Reimer's ball and the foul pole, but it's an indication of the change in fortune.
"Last year that ball would have nicked the foul pole," said Olson.
"But," he added with emphasis, "that was last year."
And the opening chapter of this season is playing a lot nicer, thank you very much.