SEATTLE -- Left-hander Arthur Rhodes showed Saturday night that he could handle pennant-race pressure, and then some.
Manager Johnny Oates gave him an ultimatum before he took the mound against the Seattle Mariners. Throw strikes or face the possibility of being thrown out of the starting rotation.
"The kid rose to the occasion," Oates said, after Rhodes gave up four hits over 7 2/3 innings in the Orioles' 4-0 victory at the Kingdome. "We offered him a challenge before the ballgame. We told him that this wasn't a tryout camp. We told him to throw strikes, or we would find somebody who could."
Rhodes did better than that. He threw zeros at the Mariners until right-hander Todd Frohwirth came in to bail him out of a jam in the eighth inning. Stopper Gregg Olson also took part in the Orioles' 12th shutout of the year, retiring the final two batters to reach 30 saves for the third consecutive season.
But it was Rhodes who may have changed the way the Orioles look down the stretch. He had lost four consecutive starts and raised doubts about his ability to pitch under pennant pressure -- until he shut down a formidable Seattle lineup.
The Mariners had reached double figures in hits in each of their previous 12 games to set a club record, but Rhodes retired the first nine batters he faced and 10 straight during one middle-inning stretch while the Orioles were taking advantage of a four-hit performance by first baseman Randy Milligan.
Milligan doubled in the first inning. He singled and scored in the third. He singled again in the fifth and delivered a two-run double in the sixth to equal his career high for hits in a game. He has been on a serious roll, going 9-for-19 during a five-game span with two home runs, three doubles and six RBI.
To put that performance in perspective, consider that Milligan had hit only five extra-base hits in the 54 games before that five-game burst.
Rhodes figured to need a lot of offensive help. He had worked just 19 innings in his previous four starts and given up 19 earned runs. It didn't take a mathematician to figure out that a 9.00 ERA (during those four games) wasn't going to keep him in the rotation much longer.
"I had to go out there and keep us in the ballgame," Rhodes said. "Boz [pitching coach Dick Bosman] told me that I had to throw strikes. I said, 'That's fine. That's what I'm going to do.' "
The Orioles scored their runs in the third inning and the sixth, and all were scored with two outs. Bill Ripken got things started in the third with a one-out single, and the Orioles scored twice on three straight two-out hits. Milligan moved Ripken into scoring position with a single, and Mike Devereaux knocked in the first run with a single. Glenn Davis drove home the second with a double.
The sixth inning began with a leadoff single by Leo Gomez. With one out, Gomez went to second when Bill Ripken was safe on error by Mariners third baseman Edgar Martinez. One out later, Milligan lined a ball over center fielder Ken Griffey to bring home two runs and give Rhodes a four-run cushion.