Alomar steers O's to fast lane Revived bat drives O's past Rangers, 6-3, for 5th win in past 6

'It's exciting to watch'

Mathews, Benitez return with flourish

May 30, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

In six games they have turned from farce to force. The Orioles can give credit to Doug Johns, a settled lineup and the re-emergence of Roberto Alomar.

On the same night he qualified as the Orioles' all-time batting leader, Alomar helped take apart Aaron Sele, the game's winningest pitcher, with three hits, two runs and last night's first RBI in a 6-3 victory over the Texas Rangers.

Alomar was joined by left fielder B. J. Surhoff's three-hit, four-RBI effort and the three-inning return of Armando Benitez from American League president Gene Budig's purgatory.

After losing nine in a row, the Orioles have won five of six, including three straight for the first time since April 14. Winning pitcher Johns (1-1) felt the sensation for the first time in almost two years.

"I think anytime you've reached a low point and everyone is embarrassed, there's nowhere to go but up," manager Ray Miller said. "I believe that a lot of these guys were trying too hard to get things turned around and maybe pressing a little too much. I'm really happy with the way these guys have responded in the last week."

Much of it has followed Alomar, dangled for trade last weekend and now the pivotal component in a change in current.

Alomar ignited Thursday's 5-2 win with three singles and his first multi-steal game in more than a year. Stung by recent trade speculation, he again resembled the player the Orioles signed three years ago. Last night's 3-for-4 game bumped his career Orioles average to .326, 23 points higher than previous leader Bob Nieman, getting the 1,200 at-bats required to make it official.

A veteran clubhouse has little patience for a shifting lineup. The connection between consistent offense and greater production is viewed as more than happenstance.

Miller has tinkered relentlessly until this week, trying to structure his order according to the foe's bullpen and pitcher-hitter matchups. In return, his club has two wins in games in which an opponent has scored four runs or more.

"You try to structure everything thinking about the other club. But at some point you have to think about your club, too," Miller admitted. "Sometimes you might think so much about the other club, you miss something on this side."

In the past four days, Miller has dropped Cal Ripken to seventh in the lineup while installing Alomar as an atypical No. 5 bat. Surhoff has nestled neatly between the two in a spot that has treated him well for two years.

"I think it's good to have a set lineup," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "Guys become more comfortable with their roles. That means something. I think these last few games are more than a coincidence, to be honest."

Added Miller: "Robbie's certainly stirring the drink. It's exciting to watch. I think having B. J. in front of Cal with Robby's ability to run -- and having Robby and B. J. in front of Cal with his ability to swing the bat -- has helped quite a bit. It just seems like it's blended."

"I'm really not concerned with where I hit. I just want to be in the lineup," Alomar said. "I want to win."

The 25-28 Orioles reached Sele (8-3) for seven hits, five earned runs and two homers in 3 2/3 innings. What became a four-run first inning would have been nothing if not for Alomar's two-out, RBI double pulled past first baseman Mike Simms. The hit lifted his average to .348 with nine walks with runners in scoring position.

"He's a guy who's willing to take chances. He has special ability and everyone in here appreciates that," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "You can take a lot of joy watching him play. Not too many guys come along like that."

With the inning still alive, Surhoff extended his career success against Sele with a drive into the right-center-field bleachers, easing a 14-for-64 funk covering the previous 16 games.

"I think we're getting a lot more two-out hits," Surhoff said. "If you look at teams that are playing well, there are usually a lot of two-out hits and often that's the difference between winning and losing."

"The Rangers are struggling," Alomar added after Texas' season-high fifth loss in a row. "Sometimes when a team is playing like that you have to take advantage of it. So far we've been playing good baseball: scoring runs, pitching well and fielding well. When you do those three things you're going to win some games."

Johns paced eight base runners in 5 1/3 innings to earn his first win since July 14, 1996, when he defeated the Rangers for the Oakland Athletics. He had pitched on another continent and for another organization since. Unable to find sleep only three weeks ago, Johns seemed a world away from this kind of opportunity.

In three starts since a stay on the disabled list with insomnia, Johns has surrendered four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings. Last night he pounded a lineup that had gone 9-3 against left-handed starters, including a battering of Jimmy Key in Arlington last month.

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