It took him awhile, but when Kevin Appier got around to beating the Orioles, he did it with style.
The Kansas City right-hander stifled the Orioles on four hits over 8 1/3 innings last night before Jeff Montgomery clinched the hTC Royals' 2-0 win with his 20th save.
Before last night, the Orioles were the only American League team Appier had not beaten. His track record in four previous starts (2.77 ERA), however, was enough to indicate the home club wasn't facing a patsy.
"I thought he threw the ball extremely well," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He had really good movement -- good action on all of his pitches.
"We didn't hit too many balls hard --except for Glenn [Davis]. He hit three on the screws, and his at-bat [the game-ending ground out against Montgomery], he at least was out in front and gave the ball a chance to get through."
Until Cal Ripken extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a double in the ninth inning, Appier appeared in control. The Orioles got their leadoff hitter on base in six of the nine innings, but only twice advanced a runner as far as third base.
"That's what makes a good pitcher," Oates said of Appier's ability to keep himself out of deep trouble. "And that guy was a pretty good pitcher tonight. You have to give him some credit."
Ripken's one-out double followed a leadoff walk to Brady Anderson and put the potential tying run at second base. But Montgomery won a good duel against Randy Milligan, who just missed muscling a hit over the head of second baseman Keith Miller, who retreated into short right field to catch the looping liner. Davis then hit his grounder to third to end it.
"I didn't hit that ball very well," said Milligan. "Millsie [Miller] is a pretty athletic second baseman. You have to hit it a little better than that."
Nevertheless, Oates said Milligan had a good game plan. "That was a real good at-bat," said Oates. "Randy knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to hit the ball over the second baseman's head into the gap in right-center field. You could see what he was trying to do with each swing -- he just didn't get quite enough of it."
Appier's performance outshone another quality effort by Mike Mussina, who pitched a six-hitter in his third complete game of the year.
The Royals scored runs in the third and seventh innings, but that was enough to beat the Orioles for the first time in five tries this year.
"All my pitches were working," said Appier. "It's hard not to be effective when all three of my pitches are working well."
He admitted to some frustration, especially considering his overall record, at having not beaten the Orioles. "It was a little upsetting, although I had some good games against them," he said. "To get my first win against these guys, that's awesome."
It would have been even better for Appier had he been able to record his first shutout, but he was hardly surprised when he was taken out.
"I felt he [manager Hal McRae] would take me out [after Ripken's double]," said Appier. "I was upset, not by the manager's decision, but because I couldn't finish it off, and left the team in a big jam."
Other than the aborted ninth-inning rally, the only thing the 14th straight sellout crowd at Oriole Park had to cheer about was the return of Rick Dempsey. The popular catcher was a ninth-inning replacement for Jeff Tackett and received a standing ovation when he entered the game.
From the outset, the game figured to be low-scoring, and the starters didn't disappoint.
Appier and Mussina have identical records (8-3) and almost identical ERAs (2.35 for Appier, 2.41 for Mussina). Both should be strong contenders for the American League's All-Star team.
A rare lapse of control cost Mussina a run in the third inning, when Brian McRae bunted for a single with one out. He moved up two bases when Rico Rossy walked and Miller was hit by a pitch.
Gregg Jefferies delivered a sacrifice fly to drive in the first run before Wally Joyner fouled out to end the inning.
The Orioles' leadoff hitter reached base in each of the first three innings (and four of the first six), but the team couldn't mount a serious threat against Appier. Anderson walked to lead off the first, but two infield grounders and a strikeout quickly followed.
In the second, Davis lined a single to center and moved up on Joe Orsulak's bid for a base hit through the right side. Second baseman Miller made a good play going to his left and threw to Appier covering first for the out.
Leo Gomez and Mark McLemore then were retired routinely.
Tackett reached on Jefferies' throwing error in the third, but was forced out when Anderson dribbled into a double play.
Davis sent McRae to the warning track with his long drive in the fourth, and McLemore got the same result on his bid for extra bases in the fifth. The Orioles' second hit came in the sixth, when Tackett looped a single to right.