When Mike Oquist faced Carlos Delgado in the most crucial at-bat of the Orioles' 6-3 win over Toronto Tuesday night, there were flashbacks both in the dugout and on the pitching mound.
Oquist had faced the Blue Jays twice during the exhibition season -- and both times he gave up long home runs to Delgado.
"Sure, I thought about it," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates, who said one thing he learned during spring training about the Blue Jays rookie slugger is that "you can't throw him 3-and-1 hanging sliders."
Or juicy 2-and-0 fastballs either. "That's what the first one was," said Oquist. "The second one was a slider that I left out over the plate."
It didn't stay there long, Delgado connecting for one of his Hard Rock Cafe wallops. "You can't help thinking about that [the two home runs]," said Oquist. "But that was a different time and a different place.
"I can't not throw him a fastball or slider because he hit home runs. They came on pitches when I was behind in the count -- and that's not my style. I don't throw 90 miles per hour, so I have to get ahead of hitters. It was a learning experience."
Tuesday night Oquist had hit Ed Sprague with a pitch to load the bases before Delgado came to the plate as a pinch hitter. It took only three pitches to dismiss the flashbacks.
When Delgado chased a high fastball for strike one, Oquist took notice. The next pitch was a sharp curveball for a second strike and then Oquist took Delgado up the ladder for a fastball higher than the first for strike three.
At the time, the Blue Jays had a 3-0 lead and Juan Guzman was giving the impression of being unhittable. "A hit in that spot changes the entire complexion of the game," said Oates. "It was probably the biggest out of the night."
The home runs Oquist gave up to Delgado were about the only blotches on his otherwise spectacular spring record. They may have made it easier for the Orioles to send the right-hander back to Triple-A Rochester to start the season.
But the lessons learned were not forgotten. Oquist struck out Delgado both times he faced him Tuesday. He was able to do so because he didn't give in -- and didn't eliminate any of pitches just because a couple of them had been hit a long way two months ago.
His reward was his first major-league win -- and a standing ovation. "It's hard to describe the feeling," he said. "It's like something you've acted out hundreds of times in the back yard."
But this time it wasn't a dream -- and the flashback was little more than a fleeting memory.