MINNEAPOLIS - When Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli asked Larry Bigbie to play little ball last night, the young outfielder failed miserably.
But after turning a third-inning bunt attempt into a strikeout, Bigbie got a few chances to swing his red-hot bat, and pretty soon a host of Minnesota Twins fans were filing for the exits asking, "Who's Larry Bigbie?"
With two doubles and a home run in a span of three innings, Bigbie racked up seven RBIs, as the Orioles broke open a tight game in the sixth inning and rolled to an 11-2 victory at the Metrodome.
Bigbie became the first Oriole to drive in seven runs in the same game since Chris Hoiles hit two grand slams and finished with eight RBIs at Cleveland on Aug. 14, 1998.
"It's one of those nights you hope to have every time you step on the field," said Bigbie, who batted ninth. "But it usually doesn't happen."
For one night, Bigbie and the Orioles played spoilers. The Twins are hoping to clinch a third straight American League Central title this weekend, but the Orioles kept those plans on hold by breaking Minnesota's nine-game winning streak.
Sidney Ponson (11-14) allowed two runs in seven innings, improving to 8-2 since the All-Star break, and once again, the Orioles got a big hit from Rafael Palmeiro.
Minnesota led 2-1 in the sixth inning, when Palmeiro hit a two-out, two-run homer off Terry Mulholland. It was Palmeiro's 20th of the season, and the 548th of his career, which moved him into a tie with Mike Schmidt for 10th place on the all-time list.
"I know Mike Schmidt's a great player, and to be able to be tied with him means a lot to me," Palmeiro said. "But it's just not my focus right now. I've got other things on my mind that are more important, if you know what I mean."
Palmeiro was referring to the $4.5 million option on his contract that won't kick in unless he plays defense in 16 of the team's final 17 games.
He is hitting .379 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in September, but he was back in the designated hitter's role last night. The home run he hit off Mulholland was just his fourth in 147 at-bats against left-handers this year.
Like Palmeiro, Bigbie is hoping to close the season with a big finish. Since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 1, he's batting .431.
But he wasn't feeling so hot in the third inning, when Mazzilli flashed the bunt sign with no outs and two men on. Mulholland, 41, picked him apart for the strikeout.
Mazzilli scolded Bigbie for trying to bunt for a hit instead of concentrating on moving the runners up. Bigbie, who has just three sacrifice bunts this season, was frustrated.
"Mulholland's a tough guy for me to bunt - lefty on lefty," he said. "I don't bunt that much, and he threw his cutters away. I thought I was off to a pretty rough start."
The Orioles didn't score in the inning, and Bigbie said he heard it from the fans in the left-field seats the next inning. Bigbie spent the rest of the game atoning for his mistake.
In the fifth inning, with the game still scoreless, he delivered a two-out, RBI double off Mulholland (5-9).
Minnesota went ahead 2-1 in the fifth, but Palmeiro put the Orioles back in front in the sixth, with a two-out homer that opened the floodgates. The Orioles sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning and scored five runs.
Bigbie came up with the bases loaded and fouled a pitch down the left-field line, leading to a disturbing development for the Twins. Left fielder Shannon Stewart tripped on the bullpen mound in an unsuccessful bid to make a spectacular catch, and left the game with a concussion and some bruised ribs.
He's not expected to play the rest of the series, nor is center fielder Torii Hunter, who bruised a knee trying to catch Palmeiro's pop-up in the seventh inning. Tough breaks for the Twins, whose magic number to clinch the division is down to three.
After a brief delay for Stewart's injury, Bigbie drilled Jesse Crain's next pitch over the head of Stewart's replacement in left field, Lew Ford. That cleaned the bases, and the Orioles had a 6-2 lead.
"[Bigbie] came back, and he was a little upset at himself for not getting [the bunt] down," Mazzilli said. "But that shows you something. He came back and got a couple big hits like that."
The three-inning spree wasn't over yet. Bigbie came up again with two outs in the seventh, and crushed a three-run homer off Joe Beimel.
Bigbie entered the game with one RBI in 37 career at-bats against Minnesota. He left with the mother lode, and is now batting .287 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs for the season.
"I'm seeing a big difference in him," Mazzilli said. "It's something that you knew all along that he had in him - that potential he has. It seems like he's on that little wave right now and he's riding it very well."