IT GOT real quiet, real fast last night at Camden Yards. A 415-foot, two-run blast by Ruben Sierra can do that, especially in the top of the ninth inning, when the Orioles still had a chance against the Texas Rangers.
It's a stretch to say there was a buzz at the ballpark, but it was definitely more than your customary murmur - at least before the unwelcome home run finale from Sierra.
When is Hurricane George Steinbrenner going to trade for Sierra again?
With the Orioles looking to secure their first five-game winning streak since May 2001 and climb back to .500 after a stretch in which they eerily resembled a squad capable of a 4-32 stretch, there was anticipation.
Why? Remember Cliff Floyd? Hideki Matsui? Remember when those guys were on the Orioles' radar? Now who needs 'em? The Orioles have Melvin Mora.
Wonderful Melvin. He has now hit in more consecutive games (11) than he has children (six, including those wallet-busting quintuplets). Give the man a raise. Or at least some credit, long overdue.
For a player who's not an everyday player, Mora sure plays every day. And not only does he play - left field, center field, shortstop, wherever - he also hits.
Hits parade off his bat like the Billboard Top 40. Mora hits so much, he's second in the major leagues in batting average (.356) and on-base percentage (.457).
Oddly enough, manager Mike Hargrove said last night that the Orioles are beginning to reconsider the notion that maybe Mora actually is an everyday player. And that was before the fantastic Venezuelan ripped a two-run triple into the right-center gap in bottom of the third, keeping the Orioles in the hunt against the big-bang Rangers.
And remember Ken Griffey? Ivan Rodriguez? Remember when those big boppers were on the Orioles' radar? Who needs 'em. The Orioles have Brian Roberts.
Look it up. Roberts is among the leaders in grand slams. OK, so there are a handful of American League hitters with a two-spot of slams already in the books this season. Roberts has to win the Emmy for small-screen theatrics. The second baseman called up from Ottawa last week has hit his pair in six days, stunning not only the Angels but also, well, himself.
"It's a pretty amazing feeling. I can't imagine a better one," Roberts said last night.
With that kind of pop, it was no wonder that Texas manager Buck Showalter shuffled a little nervously in the dugout last night. In the bottom of the third, with a 3-0 lead, Rangers pitcher Ismael Valdes had runners on first and third and - uh oh - Roberts at the plate.
No one's ever accused Roberts of being a power hitter, but if he keeps this up, either he's going to steal Jerry Hairston's spot at second or give Deivi Cruz a run for his money at short. Unless, of course, like Mora isn't an everyday player, Roberts isn't a shortstop.
"Right now he's a second baseman, but that doesn't mean that couldn't change. We're more open to it now than we were two years ago," Hargrove said.
Two grand slams will do a lot to accelerate your chances of winning a job somewhere.
Mora plays and hits. Roberts gets called up and slams. Slugging Ottawa call-up Luis Matos hits .462 as the replacement for Gary Matthews, who was lost to the Padres through waivers but only after Larry Bigbie was starting to make a good impression on the Orioles' brain trust. All these openings were a result of injuries to veterans Marty Cordova and B.J. Surhoff. Wow. What a week it has been since the Orioles commenced a road trip in the throes of a dispiriting losing streak, only to find new guys or re-deployed guys capable of doing better. The entire tone - and much of the roster - has been shaken and stirred. Funny how things can turn things around.
The difference could be seen in the eyes of Matos last night when he came up to bat in the seventh against Texas reliever Rosman Garcia. You know a kid is ready for the big leagues when he's living to feast on the Rangers' bullpen.
Where Matthews had been wallowing in a terrible slump before his benching and waiver-wire demise, Matos has brought energy to the Orioles' offense. When Garcia offered up a fat pitch, Matos locked into his stance and creamed a double down the left-field line.
If Pat Hentgen had not struggled so mightily, giving up five walks and six runs before getting yanked in the fifth, the Orioles would not have tried to play catch-up all night before losing to the Rangers, 8-4.
Ranked sixth in runs scored so far this season, the Orioles' offensive uptick has even had a positive effect on Sir Sidney Ponson, whose head the Orioles still wonder will ever match his arm. When he was last seen, the Aruban knight worked out of a bases-loaded jam en route to another win Tuesday night.
Ponson is now 6-3, presenting the Orioles with about one option, unless they're going to show Ponson the money, give him a three-year deal and try and win back his streaky affection. Otherwise, the Orioles' sudden hot streak lends them an opportunity to deal Ponson while his stock is relatively high, stockpiling a minor league prospect or two.
This is a season to make small steps forward, to churn a roster and find players who can make things happen - positive things. A buzz may be too much to ask, but a murmur is totally acceptable. The roller coaster may stop dipping so low for the rebuilding Orioles. Let's hope so, especially when it's 70 degrees and not raining.