Orioles try to turn corner with 8-4 win Timely hitting Rhodes lift spirits

April 29, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The old Chinese proverb holds that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

If that's the case, the Orioles just might have started the long journey back to respectability last night with an 8-4 win over the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards.

Of course, you've heard that before, as recently as last Saturday when the Orioles beat Kansas City on the road and gave the appearance that the mental blunders, spotty pitching and general listlessness that had plagued their play the first three weeks were a thing of the past.

That optimism was swept away by three straight losses in Kansas City and Chicago, but last night's victory carried with it enough positive developments to make this latest round of good feelings last at least until tonight's game.

"It's great to play well as a team and we did tonight," said Cal Ripken, who hit a three-run homer in the third inning. "For a team that's been fighting and fighting and not getting the breaks, this should help our confidence."

Among the positives:

* Arthur Rhodes' first win since last October.

* Two four-run innings, with all but one run coming with two out in each inning, leading to the team's biggest offensive output of the year.

* Ripken's first three-run homer since last June 23.

* RBI from the 3-4 spots in the batting order, the vacuum of the Orioles' attack so far.

"You make your breaks, but that's probably the best all-around game we've played this season," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "We had a couple of things that didn't go right, but no one noticed them because we won."

Of the things that went right, the most significant is likely the performance of Rhodes (1-1), who wasn't laser beam sharp and cramped up slightly in the fifth.

But Rhodes, who gave up four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, shook off the pain and was effective just long enough to get the win.

"I was working too fast [early]," said Rhodes. "I had to slow down a little bit. When I did, I got into a nice groove."

Rhodes frankly had been an enigma to Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman, but not to right-handed American League batters, who had blistered him for a .405 average, the highest among AL starters.

And the Twins' right-handed hitters, namely Pedro Munoz, who had two bases-empty home runs, and Kirby Puckett, who had two singles, got their licks in as well on Rhodes.

But the left-hander got important outs when he had to, especially in the third inning, when he worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam by yielding only one run.

The fate of few baseball games necessarily turn on two third-inning plays, but the Orioles got an immeasurable boost out of a base-running blunder and a subsequent double play.

After Chuck Knoblauch and rookie shortstop Jeff Reboulet reached on a walk and a fielder's choice, Puckett hit a drive over Mark McLemore's head that one-hopped off the right-field fence.

Surprisingly, neither Knoblauch nor Reboulet scored. Instead the bases were loaded for Dave Winfield, who hit a smash up the middle that seemed destined for center and to drive in two runs.

Instead, Ripken, playing Winfield perfectly, dove to his left, smothering the ball, then flipped it to Harold Reynolds, who completed the double play.

Knoblauch scored, but Brian Harper then grounded to second, and Rhodes, who allowed four extra-base hits and two walks in his aborted start in Kansas City last Friday, had narrowly averted disaster.

Rhodes said: "I caught a break when they only got one run. I was just trying to keep the ball down and make him [Winfield] hit a ground ball to Cal or Harold. He hit it, Cal made a great play and after that inning, I just kept telling myself to bear down."

Just slightly less important than Rhodes' performance was the seeming awakening of the Orioles' bats.

And of particular import was Ripken's blast, which came in the third after the double play.

Ripken took particular note that the homer, which sailed over the left-field wall, came off Minnesota starter Scott Erickson, who had previously handcuffed him to a .158 average.

Ripken said: "It feels good to hit one period. It was a slider that stayed over the plate pretty good. He [Erickson] has a history of giving me fits, but in that situation, I saw the ball pretty well and got a good swing on it."

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