For Glenn Davis, the object of mammoth expectations since he became an Oriole, last night brought a chance to unburden his soul.
"There was a message involved for me in this game," Davis said after he drove in two runs and hit his first home run since Aug. 13 as the Orioles completed a three-game sweep of Kansas City with a 3-0 win behind Mike Mussina.
The victory pushed the Orioles back to within three games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who lost to Cleveland, 6-3. It also moved the Orioles two games ahead of third-place Milwaukee, which fell in 15 innings to Boston, 2-1.
"That message was hope," continued Davis. "I just want the fans to know I'm not giving up and I don't want them to give up on I'm sorry I haven't met their expectations, but I don't personally have an answer why it hasn't happened."
Among others, Davis has been a target of booing fans lately. With the Orioles offense sputtering along, the middle of the batting order has been particularly susceptible to the fans' dissatisfaction.
"Everybody experiences difficulties," said Davis, who is also a target because he is the highest-paid Oriole this year at $2.8 million. "When you're expected to succeed and you fail, it hurts. I'm trying to do the best I can, so I hope the fans got the message that this team has hope.
"A lot of things have been said about me and at times I feel I've been used as a scapegoat. There has been some finger-pointing, but I want my teammates and the fans to know I have a responsibility to them and the owner not to throw in the towel.
"We need to forget all that's happened and look to tomorrow. I don't know what's going to happen now, if we're going to make it first or not, but I know we're all in this together and no matter what happens, we have to look at it that way."
The Orioles scored only seven runs in the series, the fewest in a three-game sweep in more than 20 years, when the Orioles scored 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1 wins at Chicago.
But the way Mussina pitched last night, the sacrifice fly by Davis in the sixth inning would have been enough. No Royal reached second base and Mussina allowed only four singles in stretching his winning streak to five games.
He hasn't lost since Aug. 10 at Toronto and in his last four starts, has yielded just 15 hits and three runs in 34 innings while compiling an 0.79 ERA.
"The most pleasing thing about Mike is his consistency," said manager Johnny Oates. "There have been pitchers with better fastballs, better curves or better sliders, but you don't often see someone with his amount of major-league experience pitch as consistently as he does."
While Mussina was cruising along, Davis seemed headed for another of those frustrating nights.
In the second inning, he was on second base when Randy Milligan struck out and Cal Ripken suddenly broke from first. Mike Macfarlane threw to first to nab Ripken, completing a rally-killing double play.
"We messed up," said Oates. "I'm not telling whose fault it was." But the signs pointed to Davis' missing a sign because Ripken, one of the best base runners in the American League, does not break without a reason.
"It was mass confusion," said Davis.
But that gaffe was quickly forgotten when Davis knocked home bTC the run that broke a scoreless tie with a line drive to center, then homered off Tom Gordon in the eighth for an insurance run.
He was back in the good graces of the fans.
"Sure, you hear the boos, but I hear a lot of encouraging people out there every day," he said. "I know that when they boo Rip [Cal Ripken Jr.], it just makes you realize you can't be perfect and you're never going to satisfy some people.
"I know that if we go down giving it our best effort, we have nothing to be sorry about. I want to win a championship, but when Toronto comes in here, if our first nine guys strike out, I'd like to see an attitude of 'Hey, let's shake it off and go on.'
"That's what is going to get us all through this. Last year, when we were losing all those games, they had a right to boo us. But right now we need encouragement to keep this in perspective.
"People have to realize that this team has come a long way. When you hear boos, you wind up trying twice as hard and defeating your own purpose."
Injury has kept Davis from performing up to fans' expections since he came from Houston for Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling.
In two seasons, he has 21 homers and 70 RBI in 513 at-bats, nearly the equivalent of one full season. Those numbers are not that far off his peak production when he was one of the most feared sluggers in the National League.
"In a way, I've done just about what I did in the past," he said. "But you sense there is more on the line here every day than in Houston.
"It hasn't been easy dealing with the boos, but I've tried to accept the reality of it and be optimistic. Last year, I didn't know if I'd ever play again and this year I didn't know how much the injury had affected me.
"But I still like the city, the team, the people and I'm not going to stop giving to them."