McDonald gets even, gives O's series sweep, 3-1 Brewers no match, as Ben reaches .500

August 06, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Ben McDonald said he didn't have his best stuff, but it was enough to get him even. And it has been more than three months since he could say that.

Not since April 30, when he beat the Kansas City Royals to improve to 2-2, had McDonald known what it was like to own as many wins as losses. Last night he rediscovered the feeling, throwing a strong eight-hitter as the Orioles completed a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers with a 3-1 victory.

In the process, the tall, lanky, hard-throwing right-hander presented ample evidence that he's the best .500 pitcher in baseball. His ERA, which fell to 3.03 (third lowest in the American League), is a much better indication of how McDonald has pitched than his record (9-9).

"And he's been pitching like a 3.03 pitcher," said pitching coach Dick Bosman.

In winning for the fifth time in his past six starts, McDonald held in check the team that has tormented him the most. While logging his second complete game of the year, McDonald struck out four and walked none.

Still, he said the early innings were a struggle and credited the Orioles' spectacular defense with playing a vital part in the win.

"I didn't have good command of my breaking ball until about the fifthinning," said McDonald. "And then I didn't have it very long.

"This was by far the best defensive game I've ever seen or been a part of -- a lot of things went my way. I didn't dominate. Make no mistake, the reason we won this game was defense."

On a night when McDonald was in charge most of the time, it was Jack Voigt who headed up the supporting cast. Getting a rare start in right field, Voigt made a key defensive play and had singles in each of his last two at-bats to set up the game's final two runs.

The win marked the first four-game sweep for the Orioles since April 17-20, 1992, when they victimized the Tigers, and only the second in the brief history of Oriole Park. It also enabled the Orioles to move within three games of the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays, who lost to the New York Yankees, 5-4, yesterday afternoon.

"Your goal is to play the way we did tonight," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "When you play like that, it's a lot of fun. Good defense and pitching, timely hitting and executing fundamentals, like the two bunt plays [by catcher Jeff Tackett]. I couldn't mess that one up, the way we played tonight."

McDonald's counterpart, Rafael Novoa, went the distance in the loss, allowing seven hits but coming up short in a bid for his first major-league victory.

Voigt, who threw out Bill Spiers trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning, sparked rallies that led to the Orioles' final two runs. "They renamed him Roy Hobbs," said Oates, referring to the character from the movie, "The Natural."

"Whenever I give him a chance, he does something every time, whether it's as a pinch runner, or playing first base or the outfield, or at the plate. It doesn't matter -- he's always doing something right."

Voigt, who is hitting .295 in his part-time role, says his nickname originated last year with current teammate Jamie Moyer. "He was pitching at [Triple-A] Toledo and said he could never get me out," Voigt said.

Besides Voigt, McDonald got defensive help from center fielder Mike Devereaux, who threw Kevin Seitzer out at third base to end the seventh inning, third baseman Tim Hulett, who backhanded John Jaha's liner to start the eighth, and shortstop Cal Ripken, who went to his knees to spear Kevin Reimer's half-hop line drive and throw to first to end the game.

It wasn't as though McDonald wasn't in control. Except for momentary lapse in the first inning, when Robin Yount scored on a wild pitch, he would've had his second shutout of the season. "The play fooled me," he said of the low breaking ball that bounced away from Tackett.

"I thought the ball was right under Tack and didn't break right away. Robin made a real good read and got a good jump. It was a good play on his part."

Thanks to his defense, McDonald was never seriously threatened thereafter. And, according to Tackett and Milwaukee manager Phil Garner, his stuff was better than he advertised.

"Put it this way: If it wasn't his best stuff, it was close enough. He made good pitches when he had to," said Tackett.

Said Garner: "He threw outstanding. The key was that he got his breaking ball over. He had good velocity and a splitter [forkball] that was working for him and he made good pitches with it. He made good pitches when he was behind, which helped him a lot."

McDonald's effort is about what the Orioles have come to expect. "It's getting redundant," said Oates. "His last 17 starts have been so close to each other."

Over those 17 starts, McDonald's ERA is 2.48. He is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA at Camden Yards.

And, after more than three months, he is finally in a position to get on the winning side of the won-lost ledger.

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