In one outrageously entertaining afternoon at Camden Yards, club curio Albert Belle slugged three home runs worth six RBIs, tried to refuse first base when offered it in the 11th inning, almost single-handedly reversed a four-run deficit into an 8-7 win over the Anaheim Angels and agreed to address/chastise the media for the first time since early March.
The Orioles and their fans cheered Cal Ripken's 399th career home run in the second inning, gasped in horror when he was beaned by Angels closer Troy Percival in the 10th and ultimately celebrated 3: 39 of drama when the Iron Man singled home B. J. Surhoff with the winning run in the 11th.
The 45-53 Orioles received seven scoreless innings from their bullpen as Scott Kamieniecki (1-3) benefited for his first win since April 18, 1998. The Orioles didn't just extend their winning streak to six, they teased a crowd of 44,724 with a cross between playoff suspense and WWF wrestling.
Belle emerged defiant. Ripken emerged with a slight headache. And the Orioles emerged sounding like a team with purpose after winning for the 11th time in 13 games. Not only did they win a game, they responded to an Angels team that tried to beat them with starting pitcher Chuck Finley and ultimately resorted to intimidation. Neither worked.
Marking the 17th time an Oriole had hit three home runs in a game -- something he had done in 1995 with Cleveland -- Belle sliced into leads of 3-0, 7-3 and, with two outs in the ninth, 7-6.
The win was only the Orioles' second this season when trailing after eight innings. The breakout compensated for a four-inning start from Sidney Ponson and rewarded seven innings of tight relief from Doug Johns, Al Reyes in his Orioles debut, Jesse Orosco and Kamieniecki. The win allowed the Orioles to stay 8 1/2 games behind wild card-leading Toronto.
Belle called it "a total team effort." But he especially helped by turning Camden Yards into his personal batting range.
Belle bounced one homer off the grounds crew's shed in right-center, another inside the left-field foul pole and the final one into the right-field bleachers. He also singled in the fifth inning.
The day's most dangerous bounce came in the 10th inning when Percival threw a 94-mph fastball off the ear flap of Ripken's batting helmet. Ripken recoiled in time to avoid a direct hit but still crumbled. Admittedly shaken, he rose in seconds.
"It always scary," said Percival. "He knows I'm a pro. I'm not trying to hit him. He's been comfortable up there and raking it all series. I'm trying to move him off the plate."
"I don't imagine there was any intent to hit me on the coconut," Ripken said. "I'm glad it hit me on the helmet and not the same spot on my hand. It skimmed me. It hit me pretty good, though. It gave me a little headache."
Less than a week after returning from a deep wrist bruise caused when he was hit by Montreal pitcher Mike Thurman, Ripken has crammed three home runs among his last 10 at-bats, tying him with native Baltimorean Al Kaline on the all-time list. Three games remain in the homestand for him to join the 400 club.
"The last couple days the homers are coming pretty quickly. Sometimes you get on a roll. You drive the ball well and you see the ball well. The last thing I want to do is remind myself I'm at 399 every time I go to the plate. That's not going to be very productive for me," he said.
Productivity no longer appears to be a problem for Belle. He has slammed 14 home runs in his last 36 games, giving him 24 this season. He has 16 RBIs in his last nine games and trails only Surhoff for the team lead.
"I'm pretty much right on schedule. Start off slow, finish up strong," Belle said. "I don't know why everybody panics. I'm been doing it for 10 years now. Why change?"
Miller, who sparred with his right fielder last month, now embraces him. Belle's surge has coincided with the Orioles' recent rush. Should Belle reproduce last season's monster numbers in the next several months, Miller knows he could change a season.
"There's been some pretty harsh things written about him, but he's a great run-producer," Miller said. "He's scored more runs and driven in more runs than Junior Griffey. I keep remembering that. He's a great competitor. Maybe not the eloquent speaker some writers would want him to be or other people would want him to be, but he comes to play every day and tries to beat [you] and he doesn't make excuses. I like players like that."
Belle's three home runs set up his sixth plate appearance. With Surhoff at first base with one out, Shigetoshi Hasegawa threw high and inside, and Belle was hit for the second time in as many games only one inning after Ripken's beaning.
Furious at the blow off the left shoulder, Belle told plate umpire Ed Hickox he didn't want first base. "No, it didn't. I wasn't hit," Belle insisted.