NEW YORK -- The story of the 1992 season is this: There have been just enough positive developments to keep the Orioles in contention in the American League East.
The latest, of course, is left-hander Arthur Lee Rhodes, who delivered the best performance of his major-league career last night to carry the club to a 6-0 victory and push the New York Yankees to the brink of a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium.
Rhodes (3-0) pitched a five-hit shutout and remained undefeated in four starts in the major leagues this year. It helped the Orioles pull to within three games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays with a victory that was not quite as one-sided as the final score might indicate.
It was a pitching duel between Rhodes and Yankees starter Scott Kamieniecki until second baseman Bill Ripken lined a two-run homer into the left-field seats to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the seventh. Mike Devereaux widened the advantage further with his second home run of the series as the Orioles added three more runs in the eighth.
There were also offensive contributions from slumping Cal Ripken and streaking Glenn Davis, which added to a very upbeat evening for the Orioles and what is shaping up to be a very successful visit to New York.
There was no fallout from the beanball controversy of the night before, though the New York Post stirred it up a bit with a headline yesterday that read "Headhunting in the Bronx" and a picture of Yankees catcher Matt Nokes in obvious pain after he was hit in the head by a pitch from Ben McDonald.
There was just another Orioles phemon with a bullet-like fastball to intimidate the Yankees lineup. Rhodes struck out eight in his first major league complete game and shutout. Once again, the Orioles are getting a major boost from an unexpected source.
"It's been that way since Day 1," said manager Johnny Oates. "Mark McLemore came through when we needed him. Jeff Tackett moved into the lineup when [Chris] Hoiles got hurt. Cal [Ripken] has had a couple of big hitting streaks. Now Glenn Davis is stepping forward. It has been a situation where it hasn't been the same guys every day."
Rhodes has made four starts since he was recalled from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on July 8. He has pitched at least six innings in each of them and has been very effective.
His last time out, he worked eight innings and gave up two runs on six hits to defeat the Texas Rangers. In his previous outing, he had given up just two hits in six innings of work against the Rangers, but was not involved in the decision. In his first three games, he gave up just six runs and 14 hits in 21 2/3 innings. His ERA is now 1.76.
"I've surprised myself," Rhodes said. "The last two or three games I've pitched pretty well and this time I finally got a real one [complete game]. I'm really happy with the way I pitched tonight."
Oates can't get over how much Rhodes has matured since last year, when he came up for the final two months of the season and looked very green. The plan was to keep Rhodes at Rochester for the entire 1992 season, but an injury to No. 4 starter Storm Davis forced the club to reconsider. So far, there has been no reason to regret that decision.
"There's no comparison with the way he pitched last year," Oates said. "I guess it was my idea to keep him at Triple-A all year, but we had a need and he has pitched very well."
The Yankees were impressed. They have seen him before -- he pitched against them twice without getting a decision last year -- but they had never seen him like this.
"We certainly didn't play well," said manager Buck Showalter, who will have to wait at least one more day to celebrate his new three-year contract with a victory, "but that had much to do with Arthur Rhodes. He has been pitching well for them and he continued that tonight."
Rhodes appears to be realizing the great potential that club officials have ascribed to him throughout his four-plus years in the Orioles organization, though four games does not make a career.
The Orioles have tested him under fire. The only game that wasn't close was the 9-2 victory over the Rangers on Friday. His 1992 major-league debut was a 4-2 victory over Scott Erickson and the defending world champion Minnesota Twins. His two-hit performance July 19 came in a game the Orioles won, 3-2, in extra innings.
This time, the Orioles had their hands full with Kamieniecki, who gave up just a run on five hits through the first six innings.
He might have traded shutout innings with Rhodes into the seventh if he could have kept a lid on leadoff hitter Brady Anderson, who singled in his first two at-bats and stole second in the third inning to set up a two-out RBI single by Cal Ripken.
Ripken still hasn't broken out of a lengthy hitting slump, but slapped the ball through the right side of the infield for his second run-scoring hit of the series. That would have to stand up for a while, since Kamieniecki did not give up another hit until the three-run seventh.
Arthur Rhodes' statistics through his first four starts in 1992:
Date... Opp. ... W-L... IP... H... ER... SO... ERA
7/9.... Minn.... W .... 7 2/3 ... 6.... 2.... 4... 2.35
7/19... Tex..... ND.... 6.... 2.... 2.... 5... 2.63
7/24... Tex..... W..... 8.... 6.... 2.... 7... 2.49
7/29... N.Y..... W..... 9.... 5.... 0.... 8... 1.76
Totals........ 3-0.... 30 2/3 .. 19.... 6... 24... 1.76
Bill's power surge
Bill Ripken hit his major-league career-high fourth home run against the New York Yankees last night. Here is a year-by-year look at Ripken's home runs statistics in the majors:
Year.... G..... AB... HR... Ratio
1987.... 58.... 234... 2... 117.0
1988... 150.... 512... 2... 256.0
1989... 115.... 318... 2... 159.0
1990... 129.... 406... 3... 135.3
1991... 104.... 287... 0... --
1992.... 64.... 192... 4... 48.0