When Jeff Reboulet wasn't gathering dust, he was collecting splinters. One at-bat since June 18, no hits or RBIs since three days before that. But words of encouragement came from Orioles manager Davey Johnson, who reminded Reboulet that he still was a vital part of the team.
Just how vital was proven yesterday.
Making his first start in two weeks, Reboulet lined a tie-breaking, three-run double to center field in the seventh inning that lifted the Orioles to a 10-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies before 47,785 at Camden Yards, completing a sweep of the worst team in baseball.
Coupled with Atlanta's 2-0 win over the New York Yankees, the Orioles (53-27) stretched their lead in the American League East to 7 1/2 games. They head for Detroit for tonight's opener of a five-game series that proceeds the All-Star break, and they go there in a better frame of mind.
Having been swept at home by the Toronto Blue Jays, and with their offense in a funk, the Orioles needed a shot in the arm. The Phillies packed quite a wallop.
The Orioles scored 22 runs and had 31 hits in the series. They reached double figures in hits in back-to-back games for the first time since June 21-22. And they put some additional room between themselves and the Yankees, who were closing fast.
JTC "We're not going to panic, but we knew everything we had built up at that point could easily slip away if we didn't turn it around," said pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, who went 5 2/3 innings. "It's nice to gain a couple back right away."
"I see signs of the offense waking up," Johnson said. "I know we could use a day or two off, but we need to grind it out in Detroit."
Always down in the count and never able to get his breaking stuff over, Kamieniecki surrendered nine hits and three home runs -- including a pair to third baseman Scott Rolen -- and left with the Phillies ahead, 4-2. But Roberto Alomar bailed him out in the sixth with a two-out, two-run homer to right off reliever Jerry Spradlin, his first since June 8. Alomar reached base five times, ,, including a run-scoring single in the seventh.
Alomar's single came two batters after Reboulet had driven a 2-2 fastball from Spradlin beneath the glove of diving center fielder Rob Butler. By the time right fielder Ruben Amaro retrieved the ball and fired it back to the infield, three runs had scored and Reboulet had his second extra-base hit of the season, the other an April 15 home run against his former team, the Minnesota Twins.
"I thought it was in, but as I started running to first, it didn't look like it was going to be in," said Reboulet, who took a close pitch with the count 1-2 that extended his at-bat. "He covered some ground and was playing pretty shallow. It was touch and go for a minute. I haven't been getting too many hits lately so it looks like there's 15 guys out there."
Cal Ripken had singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch. B.J. Surhoff was walked intentionally, and Jeffrey Hammonds grounded into a force play at third. Pinch hitter Tony Tarasco drew a walk to load the bases, setting up perhaps the most productive swing in Reboulet's modest career.
He can't remember ever clearing the bases with one cut. "There might never have been a three-RBI hit," he said.
Reboulet bumped his average to .200 with 13 RBIs in 80 at-bats. He struck out looking, walked and grounded to second before his final trip.
"I had been putting a little bit of pressure on myself when I got in there, trying to get hits, because I saw my average dropping," he said. "I just wanted to try and get one today, take some good swings and do the best I can. I didn't expect too much out of myself."
"I like to play everybody," Johnson said, "and I really like Jeff. I just haven't been able to play him enough. I told him the other day, 'I love you. I think the world of you. You'll definitely get some playing time.' We've got these guys with this iron-man mentality. But every time I get a chance, I'm going to slide him into the lineup."
Having already used Tarasco, his only left-handed bat on the bench, Johnson never considered pinch hitting for Reboulet. "I feel he's got just as good a chance driving the ball up the middle. He's gotten some key hits. I have a lot ofconfidence in him. I'd have more if I could get him more regular time."
Said Reboulet: "I don't look back. If he wants to pinch hit for me I'm thinking I'm hitting. I'm not looking over my shoulder."
Down 8-4, the Phillies got two back in the eighth on catcher Mike Lieberthal's homer off reliever Arthur Rhodes (5-2), the first runs he's allowed in 20 1/3 innings. Hammonds then gave the Orioles some breathing room, and enabled closer Randy Myers to stop warming up, with a two-run shot off Ricky Bottalico.
Ripken had three hits, including a run-scoring single in the first. He was 7-for-12 in the series, including Monday night's grand slam. And Rafael Palmeiro homered for the second straight game, connecting off former Oriole Garrett Stephenson leading off the third.
Stephenson was in constant trouble and left after five innings and 114 pitches. He allowed two runs and four hits, walked six and struck out five, and ended up being the best thing going on the Phillies' staff yesterday, as a bullpen filled with no-names again imploded.
"This is getting rough," said rookie manager Terry Francona, whose club has lost nine straight and 17 of 18, and has been swept in 10 series. "We're looking for somebody to step up and say, 'I belong here and I'm here to win.' "
This week, the Orioles were glad to have them.
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site: Tiger Stadium
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key (11-4, 2.66) vs. Tigers' Felipe Lira (5-4, 5.04)
Pub Date: 7/03/97