ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles have gotten well in a hurry. Two days ago, they appeared to be slipping out of contention in the American League East, but back-to-back shutouts have a way of recharging a team's batteries.
Right-hander Ben McDonald, who had spent the past six weeks raising doubts about his supposedly awesome potential, reminded both the Orioles and the Texas Rangers last night why he was one of the most highly touted young pitchers in the history of the game.
The day after teammate Mike Mussina pitched a one-hitter, McDonald gave up just two hits on the way to a 7-0 victory over the Rangers at Arlington Stadium.
McDonald (9-6) struck out only five batters, but he still overpowered the Rangers. He established his fastball early in the game and beguiled the Rangers with his breaking stuff in the middle innings -- running the Orioles' string of scoreless innings to 20 against an explosive Rangers lineup.
He got 15 outs with ground balls, which is a pretty good indication that his sinking fastball was working well and he was in control of the lower end of the strike zone.
The rejuvenated Orioles offense, meanwhile, hammered Rangers starter Jose Guzman for seven runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings on the way to the club's second straight lopsided victory. Third baseman Leo Gomez led the way with a run-scoring single and a three-run homer, equaling a career high with four RBI.
The Orioles opened the second half knowing that the starting rotation would have to rebound for them to remain close to the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. McDonald and Mussina each opened the season with five straight victories. Now they have opened the second half with a pair of impressive performances, which has to be a big lift for the club.
It was the first time that Orioles pitchers had pitched back-to-back shutouts since 1985, when Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis shut out the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 29-30, 1985.
McDonald was looking for a fresh start. He had closed out the first half with a lackluster 10-hit performance against the Minnesota Twins and his fourth loss in five decisions. He cruised into June as one of the winningest pitchers in the league, but has won just once since June 1.
He could not exactly curse the fates for his lack of success. His ERA in his previous eight starts was a frightening 6.70 and he had surrendered 12 homers to assume the major-league lead (23) in that dubious department. He went sour at just the wrong time for the Orioles, who also were having trouble with a couple of other spots in the rotation.
McDonald may have picked just the right time to get back on his game. He picked right up where teammate Mike Mussina left off the night before, throwing zeros while his teammates built another big lead.
Guzman also entered the game with four losses in his previous five decisions, but he could not reverse the trend. He struggled with his control from the outset and let the game get away in the middle innings.
The Orioles took advantage of a leadoff walk in the second inning to get on the scoreboard, but it took two runs in the fourth and four in the fifth to put McDonald into the comfort zone.
Right fielder Joe Orsulak drove in the first run of the game with a fielders choice in the second inning. Gomez and catcher Jeff Tackett padded the slim lead with RBI singles in the fourth. Guzman could not get out of the fifth.
He walked Cal Ripken with one out and gave up a line single to Glenn Davis before Orsulak drove in his second run of the game with a two-out single through the middle. Gomez removed all doubt moments later when he drilled the ball over the 380-foot marker in left-center for his seventh home run.
Gomez finally appears to be flexing his muscles. He has kept his average between .280 and .310 for most of the season, but he hit just five home runs in the first 86 games of the season. Now he has a pair of three-run homers in his past four games.
And Davis finally appears to be getting comfortable at the plate. He had two hits last night and has hit safely in 11 of his past 13 games. During that span, he's batting .340.
McDonald never struggled. He gave up a single to Dean Palmer in the first inning and a base hit to Ivan Rodriguez in the second, then reeled off 14 consecutive outs before Ruben Sierra drew a walk with one out in the seventh.
Site: Arlington (Texas) Stadium
Orioles starter: Arthur Rhodes (1-0, 2.35)
Rangers starter: Todd Burns (2-2, 3.49)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)