With Jeff Conine back from the disabled list, the Orioles could feel the difference last night.
He had one base hit, and it traveled about 75 feet, but his mere presence seemed to lessen their burden, helping them overcome one self-destructive inning by Scott Erickson.
The Minnesota Twins capitalized on two Erickson errors to make things close, but the Orioles held on for a 6-4 victory before 40,074 at Camden Yards.
After winning Tuesday's opener, the Orioles ended Minnesota's streak of 13 consecutive series without a loss.
Conine had been on the disabled list since June 15 with a strained right hamstring, and the Orioles went 22-23 without him, despite also being without David Segui that whole time and losing Mike Bordick last month, as well.
After getting back in the lineup, batting sixth and playing first base, Conine went 1-for-4, legging out an infield hit in the second inning and getting thrown out trying to score from second. Most importantly for the Orioles, Conine said the hamstring felt fine.
"No problems whatsoever," he said.
And even though he didn't exactly crush the ball, others around him did. Melvin Mora, Luis Lopez and Gary Matthews - the top three hitters in the Orioles' lineup - combined to go 7-for-11 with five RBIs.
Chris Richard singled in the second inning, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He has hit in all eight games since returning from the disabled list last week, and the streak includes the final two games he played last season.
"We've talked since Segui went out about how important it is to have a veteran guy in the lineup - a proven run producer who knows how to drive in runs," Matthews said. "It takes pressure off of everybody else in the lineup and enables us to have another threat."
Matthews said the entire bench held its breath when Conine hit the little roller toward third base, forcing him to test the hamstring in the second inning. Conine flashed a little smile, assuring the bench he was OK.
Two batters later, when Jerry Hairston singled into left field, Conine was thrown out at home plate trying to score from second base. The throw from Twins left fielder Jacque Jones pulled catcher A.J. Pierzynski to his left, and Conine clipped Pierzynski's legs but was tagged out after apparently failing to touch home plate.
Mike Hargrove argued the play with home plate umpire Dale Scott, to no avail, but the Orioles were undeterred. Mora followed with a two-run double, Lopez had a run-scoring double down the first base line, and Matthews scored Lopez with a bloop single to center.
The Orioles led 5-0 after two innings, but the Twins came back for four runs in the third, when Erickson made his two errors.
"If I make those plays, we probably get out of it with one or no runs scored," Erickson said. "We scored enough runs, where it didn't really affect the outcome of the game."
Erickson (5-10) pitched well enough to shake the problems that had been plaguing him over his previous two starts. The Twins scored their four runs against him in the third inning, and only one was earned.
After pitching just three innings in each of his two starts since being arrested in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Erickson went seven innings this time, allowing seven hits and one walk.
"He threw the ball probably as well as he's thrown it all year," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "It was ugly there for a while, but Scotty gathered himself and got out of the inning without further damage. ... A lot of guys wouldn't have been able to do that."
The Orioles added an insurance run in the fifth, and Hargrove turned things over to his bullpen in the eighth. Minnesota put two runners on with no outs against Buddy Groom, but Willis Roberts came on and got three quick outs.
Jorge Julio pitched the ninth for his 22nd save.
The Orioles pounded Twins starter Rick Reed (9-6) for six runs on 10 hits in five innings. Reed had been 3-0 since the All-Star break, but the Orioles took advantage of having another big bat back in their lineup.
"Even though I didn't hit the ball hard, I felt comfortable at the plate," Conine said. "I saw the ball pretty well. It wasn't a case where you're up there like, `Oh my God, I have no clue right now.' "
For the Orioles, that's another good sign.
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Brad Radke (4-2, 5.15) vs. Orioles' Travis Driskill (7-5, 4.91)