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When one player starts hitting, so do the others

On the Orioles' offense

May 28, 2008|By RICK MAESE

On this night, the Orioles' mighty bats - don't laugh - didn't put the Yankees away until midnight had come and gone. But long before one of the season's biggest wins was in the books and long before the home runs started clearing the outfield fences like it was Souvenir Ball Night, the players were milling around the pre-game clubhouse wearing shirts that just didn't match. Kevin Millar was wearing a T-shirt with "Markakis" written across the back. And Nick Markakis wore one that had "Jones" stretched from shoulder to shoulder.

There are a couple of possible explanations: a) the Orioles aren't paid enough to afford their own shirts; b) inspired by Jason Giambi and the Golden Thong (sounds like a possible Harry Potter sequel, huh?), players raid one another's lockers and borrow whatever they see fit; or c) this year's Orioles just rub off on one another in the right way, one guy influencing and affecting the next.

For literary purposes, we're going with option C today because we're talking about offense - and with these Orioles, more nights than not, they're either all connecting or they're all whiffing.

For the second game in a row, they were connecting in a big way. Aided by five home runs, the Orioles came from behind to top the Yankees, 10-9, in 11 innings last night. Their spotty offense - spotted on the side of milk cartons just a few days ago - put up numbers it usually takes several games to compile. In fact, the Orioles' 16 runs the past two games mark the most in consecutive games since the first week of the season.

Facing repeated deficits, waiting out a rain delay and then hanging two runs on the Yankees in the 11th inning made for a dramatic win. Put simply: It was as big a win as a team like the Orioles could expect in May. Manager Dave Trembley, in fact, called it the best game he'd been a part of.

"I'll replay this one for a long time," he said. "That was tremendous."

Less than a week removed from a three-game stretch in which they managed just a run, we're suddenly talking contract extension for hitting coach Terry Crowley.

OK, maybe not in May, but the offense the past two nights did illustrate how fickle and how unpredictable hitting can be.

"All these guys can hit," Trembley said. "I think what it is is something like one guy gets it started for the next guy."

Trembley made that point before last night's game, and his players illustrated it shortly after the first pitch.

Aubrey Huff led off the second inning with a single to center. On the first pitch Millar saw, he homered to left-center field. Ramon Hernandez then strode to the plate and shipped a pitch into the left-field seats. At times, it's simply infectious with this team.

The Yankees did their share of damage, of course (Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez also hit back-to-back homers in the fourth), but when the Orioles reached the bottom of the fifth inning, all they needed was someone to hang the first balloon. The party ensued shortly thereafter.

The fifth was another inning that looked like something stripped from an old video game. Brian Roberts led off with a single and then Melvin Mora homered to left. Luke Scott homered two outs later, and before fans had stopped cheering, Millar tied the game at 8 with yet another homer. It was his second of the game and the team's fifth.

Orioles fans who spent the better part of the past week fretting over the team's offense were left completely dazed, human bobbleheads for whom life suddenly made little sense.

The Orioles' offensive numbers are lousy, though not unsurprisingly so. The most shocking thing about the Orioles has been the relative success of their pitching, not the stumbling woes of their offense. Put simply, this team's bats are about what they were expected to be.

Trading Miguel Tejada to Houston left the Orioles with a lineup about as scary as a Nickelodeon Halloween special. Even as the team has flirted with a respectable record, heightened expectations for the offense were undue. Hope couldn't be fairly tied to hitting; rather it's always hinged on the idea of timely hitting.

For all their faults at the plate, Orioles hitters have at least performed better when the guy in front has set the pace. With no one on base, they're batting .235, better than only four other teams in baseball.

But with at least one runner on base, the Orioles are hitting .259 - 22nd in baseball, but a considerably higher mark. Seven regulars are above .250.

The difference between the five-game losing streak of last week and a couple of offensive explosions from this week isn't tough to figure out.

The Orioles don't need a golden thong. They just need someone to get the hitting started each night.

These Orioles thrive off one another, in the clubhouse and on the field. Last night's big win again showed what momentum means to this bunch. When one is swinging the bat effectively, odds are better that the rest might join the party.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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