In keeping with their team colors, the Orioles went from orange floppy hats to black storm clouds last night. Being thrown into the fire each time they faced the Texas Rangers' lineup didn't provide enough anxiety. They also braced for a flood.
The Orioles survived all the elements. Waiting out one of the longest rain delays in club history, they reached .500 for the first time in three weeks with a 7-1 victory over the Rangers at Camden Yards that was more a testament to endurance than skill.
With eighth-inning singles after midnight, Melvin Mora extended his hitting streak to 13 and Tony Batista to 12. Catcher Geronimo Gil belted his second home run in his past four games, and Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez dropped a pop-up to let two runs score.
Rick Helling (3-4) won for the first time since May 9 by limiting the Rangers to a bases-empty homer by catcher Einar Diaz over seven innings.
"The lineup they have, no lead is ever safe," Helling said. "You've got to get as many runs as you can because they can score them in bunches."
Fans still wonder if the Orioles are legitimate or just going through a decent spell, but they learned long ago that the weather is a tease.
The temperature at first pitch was 67 degrees, 18 lower than Friday night, when the second-largest crowd of the season provided atmosphere. Thunderstorms swept through the area, and the paid attendance dipped to 30,178, which didn't reflect a much lower turnstile count or the bodies that fled early.
The game started 2 hours, 42 minutes late, falling one minute short of the home franchise record for delays set on Sept. 19, 2000, against the Oakland Athletics. They had another 2:42 delay on Sept. 22, 1992.
"You've got to try to stay as mentally prepared as you can," Helling said.
"I always tell myself, `We're going to play eventually,' because you don't want to let yourself think you're not playing and then have to get back up."
Orange ponchos replaced the floppy hats, but it takes more than rain to cool the Orioles, who have won eight of their past 10. Their record hadn't leveled off since May 10, and they climbed within 4 1/2 games of first place.
Maybe fatigue got to Rodriguez in the third inning. The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs after Gil homered, and Rodriguez drifted toward the left-field line to move under Batista's pop-up. He reached behind his head, and the ball deflected off his glove.
Rodriguez was charged with his third error, the second against the Orioles.
He made a high throw in Sunday's game that permitted the go-ahead run to score in the fifth.
Last night, he stared into his glove and gave it a few squeezes before shifting his attention to the replay on the video screen. Rodriguez patted his chest - it was nobody's fault but his own - and the inning continued with the Orioles leading 3-0.
The Orioles might want to use the starting time as an excuse for their adventures on the basepaths. Twice they ran into outs and choked off rallies.
Jay Gibbons got caught between third and home as Batista broke for second on a double steal. Diaz threw behind Gibbons, who was tagged out. And David Segui passed Brian Roberts, who retreated to second base, on Jeff Conine's line drive to left field and was easily doubled off first.
Matos doesn't need any excuses. He had two singles and a double for his seventh multi-hit game since joining the team on May 23, and scored the Orioles' fourth run.
A two-out single by Deivi Cruz delivered Matos in the sixth and forced Rangers manager Buck Showalter to go to his bullpen.
One more game remains in the homestand before the Orioles begin the interleague portion of their schedule with series in Houston and St. Louis. They're off tomorrow, and the scouting department will be occupied Tuesday with the amateur draft.
Helling had enough to worry about with an opponent that leads the majors in home runs. Diaz took him deep in the fifth, only his second homer this season, and the Rangers' 88th. Helling has allowed 14 in 65 innings.
The Rangers had four doubles off him in six innings, but none of those runners scored. The tying runs were on base in the sixth when Rafael Palmeiro doubled and Helling hit Mark Teixeira, but Ryan Christenson flied to deep center. And with a 5-1 lead in jeopardy in the eighth, Conine made a diving catch of Palmeiro's liner and threw to second to complete the double play.
"That was awfully big," manager Mike Hargrove said. "That ball gets through, and we're looking at the heart of their order with no outs and one run in."
Helling's last start came against the Rangers in Arlington, and he didn't make it past the third inning. Teixeira's grand slam capped a seven-run outburst, but the Orioles rallied for a 13-10 win.
"He commanded his fastball tonight," Hargrove said, "and he didn't at all his last start."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Colby Lewis (4-3, 7.74) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (6-3, 4.09)