Last year, when Arthur Rhodes got his first glimpse of the big leagues, he was the Orioles' great hope for the future.
Last night, a different Arthur Rhodes took the mound, and he quickly became the Orioles' pitcher of the moment.
Rhodes, a 22-year-old left-hander recalled from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday, gained his first major-league victory with a 4-2 decision over the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards.
"This is a different pitcher than I saw last year," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "It was evident. Last year, you'd sit on the bench waiting for him to throw strikes . . . if he threw strikes. Tonight, I thought he was in command from the first pitch."
Rhodes got home run support from Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux in the first inning and from Chito Martinez in the fifth. Anderson hit a first-pitch, leadoff homer to right-center against Scott Erickson, and four pitches later Devereaux reached the seats in left field.
The consecutive home runs by Anderson -- named to the All-Star team yesterday by Twins manager Tom Kelly -- and Devereaux tied an American League record for most home runs to start a game. It was the 17th time in AL history it happened, the previous being June 23, 1988, when the Orioles' Ken Gerhart and Fred Lynn did it against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Martinez was a last-minute replacement for designated hitter Glenn Davis, who was scratched because of soreness in his back.
Rhodes was erratic and unsuccessful in eight starts a year ago (0-3, 8.00 ERA). Last night, he was smooth, if not polished, and in command.
Pitching against the major leagues' most potent lineup, Rhodes took a shutout bid into the eighth inning before giving up two runs. He gave way to Alan Mills, who pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball for his first major-league save.
Despite Rhodes' heroics, the Orioles were unable to gain ground on the Blue Jays in the American League East, as Toronto beat the Oakland Athletics, 4-3, last night.
Rhodes gave up six hits in 7 2/3 innings -- three of them in the eighth. He threw 109 pitches (68 for strikes), walked two and struck out four.
It was Rhodes' best pitch to earn a permanent spot on the roster, a circumstance that is clouded by the injury status of closer Gregg Olson and yesterday's acquisition of left-handed pitcher Pat Clements from the San Diego Padres on waivers.
"I had to prove it to him [Oates] that I belong up here," Rhodes said after getting an ovation from the crowd of 41,050, the Orioles' 22nd consecutive home sellout. "I hope I stay up here."
Oates, however, was non-committal. The Orioles don't have to make a roster move until Clements arrives tomorrow, and Oates said a decision on who goes likely won't be reached until just before game time.
"A lot of things are going through my mind," Oates said. "Let's just sit for a while. We'll talk about that later."
One possibility is to put Olson on the disabled list, a move the Orioles hope they won't have to make. He suffered a strained left external oblique muscle after throwing just five pitches Wednesday night against the Chicago White Sox, and will be examined again today by team physician Dr. Charles Silberstein.
Rhodes became the first left-handed pitcher to win a game for the Orioles since Oct. 5, 1991, when Jim Poole notched a victory in relief against the Detroit Tigers, the Orioles' last win at Memorial Stadium. Rhodes also is the first left-handed starter to win a game since July 15, 1991, when Jeff Ballard beat the California Angels.
And he was within six outs of being the first left-hander to throw a shutout since Ballard on Aug. 21, 1989.
The Twins had beaten Rhodes last season, 14-3, and could appreciate the difference in his performance.
"He spotted the ball well and threw strikes," said Shane Mack, whose eighth-inning RBI single ended Rhodes' shutout bid.
"That was the difference between this year and last year. He had a good breaking ball, too. He's kind of sneaky quick. The ball gets on you fast."
Said Anderson: "You don't see the Twins over-swinging very often."
Rhodes, a hard thrower, kept the Twins off-balance with a slider. He remembered the 14-3 loss.
"I wanted a payback," he said. "This was the World Series champions, a hot-hitting team."
Rhodes wriggled off the hook when he allowed leadoff singles in the first two innings. He gave up an additional single in the third and then didn't allow a hit until Gene Larkin doubled past third baseman Leo Gomez to open the eighth.
A single by Scott Leius put runners on first and third. One out later, Mack hit an RBI single to right. While he was caught in a rundown between first and second, Leius scored from third.
With Olson unavailable, Oates went to Mills, who will share closing duties with Todd Frohwirth in Olson's absence. Mills gave up two soft singles before retiring the last four batters.