The Milwaukee Brewers could not handle the heart of the Orioles' lineup again yesterday, perhaps because the heart of the Orioles' lineup never seems to be in the same place twice.
The Orioles ran off another big offensive performance with relatively little help from the traditional nucleus of the batting order and prevailed, 7-4, in the deciding game of the three-game series at Camden Yards.
This time, the Nos. 8, 9 and 1 spots in the lineup accounted for six runs to carry struggling right-hander Ben McDonald to his eighth victory. The night before, the Orioles got nine hits and nine RBI from the first, second and ninth slots to rout the Brewers and rebound from a three-game losing streak.
"That's nothing new," manager Johnny Oates said. "The bottom of the lineup has done it for us all year, and so have the first two guys."
But the names have not always been the same. The big bopper yesterday was second baseman Bill Ripken, who equaled a career high with four hits, including a pivotal two-run single and -- his third home run. Surprising Jeff Tackett helped out with two doubles and an RBI, and Brady Anderson added a two-run home run as the Orioles salvaged a .500 homestand with their third win in six games.
Brewers starter Bill Wegman had to wonder what hit him. He had a 7-1 lifetime record against the Orioles a week ago, but came up empty in back-to-back starts against them.
He got away with a no-decision in a lopsided Brewers loss in Milwaukee and gave up seven runs on 10 hits to suffer the loss yesterday.
Ripken apparently has his number. Three of his four hits came off Wegman, who has gotten him out just twice in 11 career at-bats.
McDonald, who had not won since June 1, carried a shutout effort through the fifth inning before giving up two runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh. The two-run home run by Franklin Stubbs in the seventh finally persuaded Oates to bring on middleman Alan Mills, who worked two scoreless innings and then turned the game over to stopper Gregg Olson.
Olson needed only about 1 hour, 15 minutes to record his 21st save. The Brewers were down to their last out when thundershowers forced the game to be delayed for 64 minutes. Olson returned to the mound to make just one pitch, retiring Pat Listach on a fly ball to center to end the game.
The two-day turnaround had to be a big lift for the Orioles, who pulled out of a 6-10 slide to keep the third-place Brewers at arm's length and to stay within a game of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The starting rotation was a combined 1-10 in those 16 games, but Rick Sutcliffe and McDonald gave the club back-to-back victories by starting pitchers for the first time since Mike Mussina and Bob Milacki won June 7 and 8.
McDonald (8-5) had to be wondering where his next victory was going to come from. He was 0-3 with a 6.97 ERA in his previous five starts, a slump that took the luster off his 7-2 start.
He gave up a leadoff double to Listach yesterday, but settled down to give up just two more hits over the first five innings. He faltered in the sixth and let the Brewers back into a one-sided game in the seventh, but it was still a step in the right direction for a pitcher who figures to play prominently in the Orioles' attempt to keep pace with the Blue Jays in the second half of the season.
The home run by Stubbs was the 20th of the year surrendered by McDonald, who leads the major leagues in homers allowed. He has given up 101 hits this year and more than half of them (52) have been for extra bases.
"I would say he was a little sharper with his pitches and a little more aggressive," said Tackett. "We scored some runs for him early. That's always a positive thing."
The Orioles' assault began with a second-inning home run by Sam Horn, but that would be the only sound the Brewers would hear from the middle of the Orioles lineup. Tackett added an RBI double later in the inning, and the Orioles appeared to break the game open with four runs in the fourth.
Ripken poked a bases-loaded single through the left side of the infield to bring home two runs, and Anderson followed soon thereafter with his second home run in as many games. It was his 14th home run, tying him with injured Chris Hoiles for the club lead. The two RBI pushed him past Mike Devereaux and back into the team lead with 50.
Anderson credits the hitters at the bottom of the lineup for making it possible.
"That just shows that some guys are getting on base ahead of me," he said. "I'm not looking to drive in 100 runs, but I'd like to score 100 runs."
Anderson and Devereaux have combined for 26 home runs and 99 RBI in less than half a season, which might explain why Cal Ripken has not been able to duplicate his tremendous run-production stats of a year ago. The middle of the lineup has yet to shoulder a leadership role in the Orioles' offensive attack, but that has not been a matter of great concern.
"I'm not worried about a lack of run production," Oates said. "I don't think we've had an extended period where we've failed to hit."
True enough, the Orioles rank third in the league in runs scored and there is the distinct probability that the likes of Cal Ripken, Randy Milligan and Glenn Davis -- the real heart of the lineup -- will assert themselves in the second half of the season.