The optimism still is cautious, but around the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse, people are beginning to utter phrases such as "coming around" and "straightening out."
Tonight, with a 4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers before 30,669, the Orioles won their fourth straight game. They did it with what has come to be expected -- a home run by Mike Young. And they did it with the unexpected -- a good starting pitching performance, this one by Dennis Martinez.
The combination had the Orioles sounding enthusiastic, even if this streak has been molded against Cleveland and Texas, both last-place teams in their respective divisions.
"That doesn't make a difference," said Manager Earl Weaver. "We might do it against Detroit and New York. Who knows?"
The Orioles had not been able to escape their pitching woes for long enough to win four straight since June 13-16, when they swept the Milwaukee Brewers in Weaver's first series after rejoining the team.
Dennis Martinez (9-7), whose ERA was 5.14 before the game, pitched 6 2/3 innings of seven-hit, two-run ball to pave the way for the Orioles. Don Aase, who relieved Martinez after he gave up a walk to Toby Harrah (Harrah's league-leading 100th walk of the year) got his seventh save.
Jeff Russell (0-3) took the loss.
"It looks like our pitching is starting to straighten out," Weaver said. "I don't want to get too enthused about it yet, though."
The most impressive aspect of the Orioles' performance tonight was that they were able to win while scoring just four runs. All season long, the Orioles have survived the pitching troubles only by making up for them with offense. Tonight, for the first time since July 30, they scored fewer than five runs and won.
Three of those four runs were accounted for by Young, whose three-run home run off reliever Mike Mason in the sixth put Baltimore ahead, 4-2. Young's 400-foot-plus shot to left-center was his 19th homer of the year and his eighth in 12 games. He drove in Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, who had singled and walked, respectively.
"I know as of earlier this season things had been sort of rough," Young said. "Now things are getting set together . . . Even though we've struggled, the pitching is coming around . . . There's a different atmosphere in the clubhouse now. Guys are joking around more. I'm having fun. I go up to the plate thinking one thing: hit the ball hard."
Martinez, who hadn't won a game he started since July 4, set the Rangers down in order in the first, getting Oddibe McDowell and Harrah on grounders to first and retiring Pete O'Brien with a called strike on a 1-2 pitch.
Martinez got into trouble quickly in the second. With one out, Gary Ward and George Wright singled. Steve Buechele hit a high fly ball to left that looked as if it might go out, but Young made a leaping catch at the wall and narrowly missed throwing out Ward at third.
Geno Petralli singled Ward home to make it 1-0, but Lee Lacy's throw from right field nailed Wright by five feet as he tried for third.
The Orioles tied it, 1-1, in the fourth, as Russell began struggling, throwing 36 pitches in the inning. Lacy singled, moving to second on Ripken's walk. Murray fouled off three full-count pitches before he singled to right field, driving in Lacy and moving Ripken to third.
Russell went to a three-ball count for the third straight batter before Fred Lynn was called out on strikes for the first out. Lynn was incensed, and it took coach Cal Ripken Sr. and Weaver to hold him back. Russell finished the inning by striking out Young and getting Larry Sheets when he hit it back to the mound.
Cliff Johnson led off the Rangers sixth with a home run over the left field wall to give Texas a 2-1 lead. It was his 12th home run of the year. Against the Orioles, it was his career homer No. 18, more than he has hit against any other team.
Lynn left the game after seven innings because of back spasms.
Harrah, 36, is the only former Washington Senator playing for the Rangers, created when the team moved from Washington in 1972. A former Senators coach, Wayne Terwilliger, also is with the team.
In his 15th major league season, Harrah is second in the American League with a .452 on-base percentage, but has scored just 53 runs.
"It's not frustrating (not to score)," he said. "What frustrates me is when I can't get on."
Being one of only two Senators still active -- Toronto's Jeff Burroughs is the other -- "reminds me how old I am," Harrah said.
Harrah said he didn't think Washington could support a major league team. "I wish they had one, though."