Things were going so badly for Ed Whitson, who was chased out of the Yankee Stadium parking lot earlier this year, that his family had to stop coming to home games because of the abuse the fans were dealing out. The only piece of mail he had opened recently, which still hangs above his locker, is addressed: "This is not hate mail."
That was all before Whitson got a chance to start against the Orioles a couple of times. Tonight, for the second time in seven days, Whitson shut down Baltimore. He allowed the Orioles only four hits and one run in six innings as New York beat Baltimore, 7-4, before 30,650 in Yankee Stadium.
Whitson was a beneficiary of another brilliant offensive performance by Rickey Henderson, who had three hits, three runs batted in and a stolen base. His major league-leading batting average for the season improved seven more points to .360 and his career average against the Orioles went up to .366 .
Only a slightly stiff right arm at the beginning of the seventh inning got Whitson out of the game. Last Wednesday in Baltimore, he threw his first shutout in three years. And now he has improved his record to 3-6, with two of the victories coming at the Orioles' expense.
The Orioles, meanwhile, are only three games above .500; have lost six of their last eight games; dropped into a fourth-place tie with New York in the AL East seven games behind Toronto; and still haven't beaten a team other than Milwaukee since June 5.
The Yankees have won five straight over Baltimore, with one game left in this series Wednesday night. "We've got ahold of 'em now," Henderson said. "And while they're down we gotta keep 'em down."
Baltimore's Mike Boddicker (7-7), who was once 6-1, couldn't get through the fourth inning.
In addition, the Orioles continue to have troubles in the bullpen and at second base. Sammy Stewart, in 2 2/3 innings, allowed two earned runs of his own, plus allowed two inherited runners who were put on base by Boddicker, to score.
John Shelby, an outfielder his entire major league career, played the ninth inning at second base after Rich Dauer had gone out of the game for a pinch hitter.
The Orioles trailed, 7-1, until Fred Lynn hit a three-run homer -- his 13th of the season -- off relief pitcher Brian Fisher, before Dave Righetti came on to pick up his 12th save.
The game actually began with a good omen for the Orioles: Henderson reached base with a single, but he was erased in a double play and did not score in the first inning for the first time in the five games between the two teams this season.
But the Orioles couldn't do a thing with Whitson, who came into the game with a 4.64 earned run average.
They also couldn't do a thing with Henderson, who was three for four. "And I shoulda got a hit on that time at bat in the third," Henderson said. "I screwed up."
Boddicker's trouble began and ended in the fourth. Ken Griffey led off with a single. Boddicker walked Winfield and allowed a run-scoring single to Ron Hassey. After a walk to Scott Bradley, Willie Randolph -- who won Monday night's game with an eighth-inning hit -- singled in two more runs for a 3-0 New York lead.
After Stewart came in and walked the No. 9 hitter in the Yankee lineup, Bobby Meacham, Henderson singled in two more runs to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead.
Baltimore tried to get back in it in the sixth, when Cal Ripken doubled in one run. But Ripken was thrown out at the plate when Winfield picked up Eddie Murray's single and threw perfectly to home for the third out.
"A run seems to get us right back in the game," Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver said. "I'm not gonna second-guess Rip, not either of them," Weaver said of third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., who kept waving his son around third base.
"The only thing that makes it wrong is that it didn't work. When the father and son work together, everything's supposed to work," Weaver said, chuckling.
Over in the Yankee clubhouse, Whitson was overjoyed by his newfound success, even admitting the shutout he threw last week "came as a total shock."
It came as at least a mild shock that Whitson got a loud ovation -- which he acknowledged with a tip of the cap -- upon leaving in the seventh. "It's a great feeling; I really appreciate it," he said more than once. "They're showing that they just like good, competitive baseball."
Of the severe booing and hate mail he received since joining the Yankees this year as an expensive free agent, Whitson smiled and said, "Hopefully, it will never happen again."
When someone asked if Whitson now understood what players mean when they speak of the pressures of getting off to a bad start in New York, he said, "Oh, my, my, my. Let's just put it this way. I know why they call it the Big Apple.
"I had to stop reading some of the mail. When the envelopes were typed, it was usually bad news. Most of the time, I checked to make sure nothing was ticking."