The Baltimore Orioles wrapped up a home stand, which had showed the club at both its best and its worst, on a high point tonight, escaping with a 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers before a crowd of 28,099.
Brilliant defensive plays and timely hitting have kept the Orioles in first place since early May. Tonight, the team built a four-run lead using both.
But opponents' late inning long balls have contributed to some of Baltimore's seven losses during the break-even 14-games here and nearly prevented the Orioles from picking up a half-game on idel Boston this evening. Baltimore now leads the Red Sox by five games.
"We haven't played well this home stand," center fielder Al Bumbry said. "Nobody said anything but you know we were disappointed to play .500 ball at home. Maybe we need to get on the road to get loose or something."
Bumbry's gem of a running, over-the-shoulder grab of Nelson Norman's long fly in the fifth was the highlight of several superb defensive plays.
Shortstop Kiko Garcia, whose 21 errors as a part-time starter leads the club, tacked an unassisted double play onto his offensive production. Garcia either set up or drove in Baltimore's five runs in the first two innings.
Bumbry opened the first by drawing a walk off Ranger starter Ferguson Jenkins, who, when last seen by the Birds, clipped their wings to the tune of a one-hit shutout July 3. Garcia followed with a double to put both in scoring position. Ken Singleton's ground out to first drove in the first run to tie the score; Eddie Murray then hit into a fielder's choice, with Garcia beating the throw from first to make it 2-1 for a permanent Oriole lead.
Garcia, who recently has slumped to .252, did not let up on the Ranger right-hander in his next at-bat. A pair of walks, two fielder's choices and Doug DeCinces' base hit put runners at the corners with two out in the second. Garcia then spotted a favorable, low-and-away offering and powered it into the visitors' bullpen for a three-run homer -- his fifth -- and a 5-1 score.
"We've got to get Fergie early, before he settles down," Garcia said of Jenkins, who owned a 6-3 lifetime-mark against Baltimore. "After the second, we couldn't touch him."
Orioles starter and winner Scott McGregor (9-4) retired nine straight before center fielder Mickey Rivers homered with two out in the fifth to narrow the gap to 5-2.
Dave Skaggs, who usually catches only when Dennis Martinez pitches, was making a rare start because of his previous offensive success against the Rangers. Once again, Manager Earl Weaver's statistical reasoning was borne out when the catcher's sixth-inning single brought home Rich Dauer, who had doubled, to again make the lead four, 6-2.
McGregor made his debut as a starter against Texas, although the southpaw has hurled 10 shutout relief innings against the Rangers. He had won five of six decisions since the All-Star break.
The Rangers were unimpressed by those statistics. They proved it in the eighth, when Buddy Bell's two-run homer and, one out later, a shot by Richie Zisk, made it 6-5, and chased McGregor.
On came Don Stanhouse -- the main reason Weaver can't kick his cigarette habit. Weaver probably lit up when Pat Putnam, the first batter to face Stanhouse, singled on the first pitch. Stanhouse finally got out of the inning unscratched by causing consecutive Rangers to be forced out at second on fielder's choices.
If a makeup date becomes necessary for the two rain-out games against New York, they will be played as a doubleheader in Baltimore Sept. 24.
Outfielder John Lowenstein, who sprained an ankle Aug. 9, will be restored to the active list Friday. Pitcher John Flinn will be optioned to Rochester to make room for Lowenstein.