Two outs from re-entering a dark place unseen for 10 years, second baseman Jerry Hairston instead provided the Orioles something against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night they hadn't experienced all season.
Hairston's two-run home run off Devil Rays closer Esteban Yan with one out in the ninth inning turned a potential tumble to 20 games below .500 into a first-of-a-kind 6-5 win before 33,618 at Camden Yards.
As Hairston's hit crashed into the left-field seats, a team increasingly accustomed to the worst celebrated a new kind of ending.
"I was praying for it to get out. I really was," Hairston said. "You understand how we've been playing the past month. Things haven't been going our way. It's good to see something go our way tonight. Hopefully, things start rolling for us and we can build on it. We haven't packed it in."
The sudden victory was the Orioles' first this season when trailing after seven or eight innings. It also interrupted a 3-15 stretch at home that dovetailed with a 6-21 July.
A year ago, the passage of the July 31 waiver deadline signaled the beginning of a 31-31 finish. Last night, Hairston reminded his clubhouse of the sensation.
"You give yourself a chance, and you never know what's going to happen in this game," said manager Mike Hargrove. "We had some guys who obviously came up big for us in spurts. It was nice to do it the way we did it."
Luckless and defenseless in July, the Orioles won because they punished the Devil Rays with three unearned runs. They also capitalized on a clumsy play by Rays shortstop Chris Gomez to fan the three-run ninth against Yan (3-4), who had allowed one home run in 34 appearances before giving up home runs to designated hitter Tony Batista and Hairston in a span of three hitters.
The homer was Hairston's seventh this season and his fourth against the Devil Rays. However, it was the first hit he could remember against ex-Oriole Yan.
"I was shocked," said Hairston, who actually entered the at-bat 1-for-5 against Yan. "I'm sure he was surprised, too."
Hairston recently emerged from an 0-for-27 to funk to hit safely in 10 of his past 12 games. Last night's was his second home run in as many days.
However, his memory from Tuesday was a potential game-tying flare that Devil Rays left fielder Jason Tyner caught for the game's final out with a sprinting slide. It only reinforced the impression of a hexed team.
"Finally, something went our way," said Hairston. "We haven't had many breaks lately. Last night, Tyner makes a great play or we could have had that ballgame. Hopefully we can start something different here."
"Today, we're in August," summed Batista. "It's a pretty good month for us, it looks like."
Another crushing loss would have sent the Orioles (45-63) 20 games below .500 for the first time since the end of the 1991 season. Instead, they proved to themselves they're capable of rallying from a 4-0 deficit.
"We've got to get more confidence. You have confidence in yourself, but you've got to know you can do it at this level," said Hairston. "Hopefully, we'll continue to build some confidence in ourselves."
The win went to reliever Alan Mills (1-1), who gained his first victory since last July 16 and September shoulder surgery.
Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift has consistently maintained that this team has progressed since its veteran core was traded away last July. Thrift made only one deal before Tuesday's waiver deadline in preparation for what is expected to be a frantic off-season.
"I think Syd made a great point: we're maybe one or two veteran players away from being a real good ballclub," said Hairston. "I think up the middle we're getting better. Hopefully, those [additional] players will make the difference, but we've got a great bunch of guys here already."
After a month of resembling a team without an offensive core, the Orioles await the imminent return of first baseman David Segui from a knee injury and shortstop Mike Bordick from a separated shoulder.
Bordick is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment tonight at Double-A Bowie. Segui continues to move nimbly around the bag during batting practice, but, according to Hargrove, requires several more days before being activated.
The Orioles entered the game enjoying a seeming mismatch of American League ERA leader Jason Johnson against struggling Devil Rays starter Ryan Rupe.
Johnson was 7-1 with a 1.86 ERA at Camden Yards; Rupe was 0-4 with a 6.68 ERA in seven starts since June 14. Rupe had neither won on the road nor beaten an American League team since a five-inning start at Camden Yards May 2.
But just as they had taken a 4-0 lead against Josh Towers Monday night, the Devil Rays squeezed out runs in the second, fourth and sixth innings to take a four-run lead as Rupe worked a shutout.