OK, admit it: Before the season started, when you were feeling good about the Orioles' chances to challenge for the AL East title, there were two factors that never crossed your mind.
No. 1 was Jeff Manto, who played for Triple-A Rochester a year ago, and No. 2 was Curtis Goodwin, who starred for the Bowie Baysox.
The Orioles are surging, having won eight of their past 11 games, including last night's 6-2 victory over the California Angels, and Manto and Goodwin are driving them back into the race. Manto homered in his first at-bat last night, his fifth homer in three days and his ninth since becoming the Orioles' third baseman in May. Goodwin, called up June 2, went 3-for-3 and improved his average to .472.
Ben McDonald scattered seven hits over eight innings, was helped by three double plays, and beat the Angels for the second time in 11 days.
Manto had homers in his last three official at-bats going into last night's game, and as he removed the doughnut from his bat in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the second inning, the crowd of 45,712 began to cheer. Could he hit another?
Absolutely. Angels starter Mike Bielecki, who had already allowed a run in the inning, hung a slider on a 1-1 pitch, and Manto pulled it into the left field stands. As the ball plummeted into the stands, several members of the Orioles' bullpen high-fived each other jubilantly, and Orioles hitting coach Lee May smiled and laughed and shook his head. Unbelievable.
Manto, who had become the first member of the Orioles to hit two homers in back-to-back games since 1987, had tied a record, becoming the 24th player in major-league history to hit homers in four consecutive at-bats.
The Angels learned Friday night about Manto magic, and the third baseman's first at-bat last night reinforced the idea that this guy was on a Reggie Jackson-like tear; from the fourth inning on, they started dealing with him very carefully, as if they were
tip-toeing around a snake in the grass.
One out into the Orioles' fourth, Cal Ripken singled and Harold Baines walked. Catcher Chris Hoiles, slowly coming out of his slump, whacked a single to left and Ripken rumbled home, sliding just under the tag.
The cheers for Ripken turned into roars for the next hitter -- Jeff Manto.
But he never got a pitch to hit, Bielecki opting to throw curveballs in the dirt and fastballs up and out of the strike zone to throwing a ball over the plate and risking another Manto mash.
The bases were loaded for second baseman Manny Alexander, who had reached base in nine of his last 17 plate appearances. Much promise. But Alexander struck out, swinging under a high breaking pitch. Two outs.
There was still Goodwin.
Bielecki had to retire Goodwin before escaping the inning, no small task because of the rookie's speed. Goodwin has at least two hits in eight of his first nine games in the big leagues and probably has hit the ball hard on about half of those hits. So long as he makes contact and he gets the ball on the ground, he's got an excellent chance to reach base.
That's what he did in this situation. Goodwin slapped a roller into the shortstop hole, where the Angels' Gary DiSarcina bobbled the ball as he tried to throw. Baines scored, and Goodwin had two hits, neither of which broached the outfield grass. Speed kills.
Brady Anderson struck out to end the inning, his 11th straight hitless at-bat, but the Orioles led, 4-2.
Goodwin started their seventh-inning rally, bouncing a single into right field with one out. He stole second, and when the throw of catcher Jorge Fabregas tipped off the glove of DiSarcina and rolled into short right field, Goodwin jumped to his feet, and after locating the ball -- and with the crowd screaming Go, go -- Goodwin cruised to third.
Anderson flied to short center before Jeffrey Hammonds drove a liner into the left-center field gap. Goodwin scored, and Hammonds, his arms pumping and pumping, dived head-first into third to beat the throw and tag. A triple.
Rafael Palmeiro walked, and Cal Ripken singled to score Hammonds. Orioles 6, Angels 2.
McDonald, who pitched so masterfully against Seattle Monday but lost when Randy Johnson shut out the O's, got into trouble immediately last night. Angels leadoff hitter Tony Phillips slammed a double off the right field scoreboard; a little cork in his bat for a little more distance and he might have hit a homer.
Second baseman Spike Owen doubled into the corner, and two batters into the game McDonald trailed 1-0, and he had yet to face the heart of the California order. However, he pitched out of the inning without any more runs scoring. Tim Salmon struck out, Chili Davis popped to short and J.T. Snow grounded to first.
California trailed 2-1 in the fourth inning when Davis unloaded on a 3-0 fastball, launching his seventh homer of the year to dead center, the ball tickling the ivy-covered wall behind the center field fence. A majestic blast.
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Mark Langston (4-1, 4.85) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (1-1, 4.91)
Tickets: 5,900 remain