SEATTLE -- The Orioles headed back to Baltimore last night, far worse for their whereabouts than anyone might have expected when the club embarked on the 10-game road trip that ended at the Kingdome yesterday afternoon.
Left-hander Jamie Moyer finally broke the club's eight-game losing streak with a complete-game performance in yesterday's 8-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners, but that didn't mean the plane ride home was going to be particularly festive.
"You know it's not good when you double your win total for a 10-game road trip on the last day," manager Johnny Oates said.
The trip was a divisional disaster, a 2-8 skid that may have taken the Orioles out of serious consideration for the American League East title. The club returned home undermanned and apparently overmatched by the first-place Toronto Blue Jays and second-place New York Yankees, but the series finale in Seattle was not without a certain uplifting quality.
Second baseman Harold Reynolds hit a three-run homer in a five-runfifth inning that broke a 1-1 tie and sent right-hander Erik Hanson to his ninth loss in 19 decisions. Moyer further clarified the Orioles' murky pitching picture with his eighth victory and second complete game.
The course now appears to be clear for Oates, though he is yet to announce who will step aside when right-hander Mike Mussina returns to the starting rotation tomorrow night at Camden Yards. It seems likely that veteran Rick Sutcliffe will drop into a spot starter role -- at least temporarily -- while he tries to find his way out of a lengthy slump.
None of the club's veteran starters appeared to be safe at the start of the series. Sutcliffe was struggling the most, but Moyer and Fernando Valenzuela both had gone several weeks without recording a victory.
Sutcliffe made matters worse for himself with a 3 2/3 -inning performance in the series opener in which he gave up eight earned runs. That left him with a 1-7 record and a 7.97 ERA in his past 10 starts. Valenzuela and Moyer needed only to pitch decently to make a strong case for remaining in the rotation.
Valenzuela did more than that on Tuesday night, giving up five hits over seven-plus innings in a game the Mariners came back to win against reliever Alan Mills. Moyer was more impressive yesterday, giving up just a run-scoring single to Rich Amaral on the way to his first victory since July 24.
"It was like a lot of his other games," Oates said. "He changed speeds very well, used all his pitches, used both sides of the plate and made them hit the ball."
He also made them miss the ball, striking out a season-high eight.
"I guess that's unusual for him," Oates said, "but he kept them off balance."
Moyer said he took no extra pressure to the mound with him yesterday. He was coming off a solid performance in Friday's loss to the New York Yankees, and he didn't seem particularly concerned that his place in the rotation might be in danger.
"That's not my decision," he said. "The only thing I can really put my energy toward is going out there and pitching and helping the ballclub. If that is out of the bullpen, so be it. If it's as a starter, so be it. I know that I've said this a lot, but I'm just happy to be in the situation. I've been given an opportunity here and I'm trying to make the best of it."
It looked for a while like he might be drawing to a losing hand. Hanson held the Orioles hitless through the first three innings and got out of a two-on, one-out situation in the fourth. But the Orioles knocked him out of the game with the five-run explosion in the fifth.
Cal Ripken led off with an infield single and Mike Pagliarulo sent him to third with a hit before Tim Hulett brought home the tying run with a single to right. Enter Reynolds, who had registered his first Kingdome hit as a non-Mariner only the night before.
Oates figured to call for the sacrifice with runners at first and second and no one out, but he let Reynolds swing away and was rewarded.
Hanson fell behind 2-0 on the count and then served up a shot into the right-field seats that changed the complexion of a tight game. It was Reynolds' third home run of the year and it made for a nice trip around the bases in front of a Seattle crowd that gave him a warm ovation.
The Orioles added a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Mike Devereaux. They got two in the sixth on a two-run infield single by Brady Anderson. Designated hitter Harold Baines provided the final run with his 11th home run in the seventh.
With that, the Orioles could go home a little happier, though they will have to stage a serious recovery the next few weeks to have any chance of getting back to the top of the standings. That's a lot to ask with so many important players injured.
"We've got four key players out," Reynolds said. "If we can just stay within striking distance until they're healthy, we'll be all right."