Wells gives Orioles shot in arm, 4-2 Team's fifth straight quality start helps finish sweep of Twins

August 02, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- David Wells' arm felt dead after the first inning yesterday, fatigued. No pain, just general stiffness, like his left biceps had just rolled out of bed.

So trainers gave his arm the medical equivalent of a cup of coffee: They rubbed down his biceps with what is generally referred to as atomic balm, and with his left arm covered by hot ointment, Wells beat Minnesota, 4-2, allowing just four hits over 7 1/3 innings. The Orioles completed a three-game sweep of the Twins, who had swept them at Camden Yards last week.

Like Wells' arm, the Orioles have come to life, winning four of their past five. The series sweep was their first since they beat Detroit three straight June 4-6. They aren't making up much ground in the wild-card standings, remaining 4 1/2 games behind Seattle, and the first-place Yankees are still a mirage on the distant American League East horizon.

But the Orioles are playing better, and in particular, pitching better. They've had five consecutive quality starts (two from Wells, and one apiece from Scott Erickson, Rocky Coppinger and Mike Mussina) -- at least six innings with no more than three runs allowed -- for the first time this season.

They've cleared another hurdle, too, getting through the trade deadline without dealing Wells or Bobby Bonilla. Despite their miserable play in July, the Orioles now know this team will remain intact for the rest of the season, for better or for worse.

"They're going to stick with what we've got," said Bonilla. "The Big Man decided this is it."

The Big Man. Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar said, "I'm really glad we still have this team together. The guys they were talking about trading, Bobby and David Wells, they're a really big part of this club. If we want to make a run, we want those guys here, with us. You don't want to see them go, when we're still in the race."

Bonilla said, "Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, this is the team. Anyone can see the owner is showing a lot of confidence in this group. He likes this group, he believes in this group. . . . This team has what it takes to win."

Carrying that logic one more step, then, they've had what it takes to win for the last three months. They just weren't doing it, and many times, the pitching was to blame. Now, the pitching is showing signs of a rebound, led by Wells, who has allowed three runs or fewer in five consecutive starts, with a 2.65 ERA.

His big right toe bothered him in May and, limited in his mobility, Wells' conditioning suffered and so did his performance. After pitching coach Pat Dobson took over his running program in June, Wells has gotten better and better, his endurance improving.

As his endurance has improved, Wells has pitched better, and been able to maintain his proper mechanics longer. He's been much more consistent about pitching down in the strike zone.

"He was really good today," Johnson said. "He was hitting his spots, moving the ball from side to side [in the strike zone]."

Wells maintained his concentration, something else he's improved over the course of the season. Minnesota catcher Mike Durant walked with one out in the third -- the only walk Wells allowed -- stole second and advanced to third when Chris Hoiles' throw skipped into center field.

Wells got ahead of Chuck Knoblauch no balls and two strikes, and twice he thought he'd finished off the Twins second baseman on check swings. Each time, however, first base umpire Dave Phillips ruled Knoblauch hadn't swung. Wells stomped around the mound, swore aloud, and continued to vent after Knoblauch drove in a run with a grounder to second.

"It's frustrating," Wells said, "because both times the guy swung."

Two months ago, Wells came apart as soon as he began to worry about umpires. Yesterday, he kept his composure and held Minnesota to a run on four hits over his last 4 1/3 innings. The Orioles scored three in the fifth inning and another in the seventh, and Wells improved his record to 8-10.

"Right now," Wells said, "I'm in a good frame of mind."

Ditto for the Orioles, who are 54-52. Wells, his left arm and elbow wrapped in ice and medical gauze, stood in front of his locker and mentioned how good it was to know this group of players is going to get another chance to make the playoffs, free of trades. The sweep of Minnesota, Wells said, "is very important, because we've got a lot of ground to make up. It sounds far-fetched for us to win the division, but we've got to take it game by game.

"They've told us they're going to stick with us, so we've got to go out and keep on doing what we've been doing. This team is a contender."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (5-9, 5.12) vs. Indians' Orel Hershiser (10-7, 4.25)

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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