In coming weeks, the Orioles will have to decide whether to keep Brian Roberts in the leadoff spot or hand the job back to Jerry Hairston, and at this rate, that won't be their only challenging decision.
If reliever Rodrigo Lopez keeps pitching this well, they might have to make room for him in the starting rotation.
Last night, the Orioles were just happy to have Roberts and Lopez on their side somewhere, as each turned in a brilliant performance in their 10-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox before 21,488 at Camden Yards.
Roberts matched a club record with four stolen bases and scored four runs, and Lopez cleaned up another starting pitcher's mess, as the Orioles broke their three-game losing streak.
Eric DuBose had been the Orioles" most consistent starter, but he allowed three runs and a career-high seven walks in four-plus innings.
When DuBose issued that seventh walk, to open the fifth inning, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli turned the 7-3 lead over to Lopez.
Over the next four innings, the White Sox would get just one hit. Lopez (2-1) came in with the second best ERA of any reliever, at 0.46, and lowered that mark to 0.38.
"I can't say enough about him." Mazzilli said. "Every time he goes in there, he does his job. It just shows me how valuable he is to this team."
Before Lopez entered, the Orioles had done their share of damage against starter Esteban Loaiza, who finished runner-up last year in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
With Roberts setting the pace, the Orioles clobbered Loaiza for 10 hits in 52/3 innings. Loaiza (4-1) was charged with eight runs, but just four were earned.
The Orioles caught their big break with the score tied 3-3 in the fourth inning. With two outs and runners at second and third, Roberts hit a grounder to shortstop that hopped between the legs of Kelly Dransfeldt.
Two runs scored on the play, and the Orioles made it sting even worse when Miguel Tejada hit a two-run single up the middle for a 7-3 lead. Time was stopped, so the Orioles could collect the ball because it was the 1,000th hit of Tejada's career.
Roberts spent the night wreaking havoc on the bases, as he scored each of the first four times he came to the plate. He came in with nine stolen bases, and raised that to 13, which was one less than Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford had coming in for the AL lead.
"He's not only getting on base." said Rafael Palmeiro, who had a pair of run-scoring singles, 'he's creating some problems out there for the pitcher."
Hairston, who broke his right ring finger in the first exhibition game, will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment today for Double-A Bowie, and he should be ready to come back in about a week. But even if the Orioles decide to use Roberts or Hairston as the designated hitter, they"ll have a hard time picking a leadoff hitter.
Roberts singled to start the first inning, extending his hitting streak to eight games. Then he stole second base and advanced to third when the throw bounced into center field.
Roberts scored the first run on Tejada's sacrifice fly.
In the third inning, Roberts doubled and scored as the Orioles took a 3-2 lead.
Then in the fourth, after reaching on Dransfeldt's error, Roberts swiped second and third base, and then scored on Tejada's single.
Mazzilli has given Roberts the green light to steal whenever he wants. "That's how I had it com ing through college and the minor leagues." Roberts said. "Up here, it's been a little different. For him to have that confidence in me is great."
Roberts singled with one out in the sixth, and swiped second for his fourth stolen base of the game. That tied the franchise record set by Brady Anderson on July 5, 1998, at New York, and matched by Luis Matos on July 30, 2000, against Cleveland.
Palmeiro scored Roberts that time on a two-out, bloop single.
The White Sox, who have hit at least one home run in 15 consecutive games, got a two-run homer from Magglio Ordonez in the first and a bases-empty one from Joe Crede in the fourth.
DuBose had gone three straight starts without giving up a home run after giving up four in his first two games. In his past three starts, DuBose was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA, but this time he allowed three runs on four hits, raising his ERA to 3.47.
But for the ninth time this season, Mazzilli a game over to Lopez, and he delivered again.
"I still have my hopes of coming back [into the rotation]." Lopez said. "I know it could be right now or later in the season. Right now, I just need to try to get people out."
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: White Sox's Mark Buehrle (1-1, 5.35) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (2-2, 6.29)