BALTIMORE, JULY 23 -- Rookie Eric Bell sliced and diced the Kansas City Royals for the second time in seven days tonight, pitching the first complete game of his career as the Baltimore Orioles won, 2-1, before 34,535 at Memorial Stadium.
Bell struck out a career-high 12 and allowed five hits as the Orioles (43-53) ran their winning streak to nine games, their longest since a 10-game streak in 1982. It also puts them within sight of the club-record 14-game streak in 1973.
Now, after being baseball's worst team for five weeks, they're its hottest, having won 12 of 15 since July 5 to close to within a half-game of the fifth-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
Baltimore's season has turned around because the once-terrible pitching has turned around. In this winning streak, Orioles pitchers have a 3.13 earned run average, and no one has been more impressive than Bell (8-7).
The 23-year-old left-hander made the longest outing of his career six days ago when he lasted 8 2/3 innings in a 3-1 victory over Kansas City. In that game, he walked one and struck out a career-high nine; so in a week against the Royals he has struck out 21 in 17 2/3 innings.
"It all clicked about four starts ago," Bell said. "That's when I stopped trying to be so fine with every pitch and just threw the ball. That's what I'd always done in the minors. It's what got me here, but I got away from it. This is a good feeling right now. We're loose and playing well. It feels like a family."
The only Kansas City run came on rookie Kevin Seitzer's third-inning homer. The Royals got only one other runner as far as third -- in the seventh -- but Bell got pinch hitter Steve Balboni on an infield pop.
Otherwise, Bell was just about perfect, throwing first-pitch strikes to 24 of 33 Royals, including the last nine in a row. Every Kansas City player who came to the plate struck out once, with the exception of outfielders Danny Tartabull and Bo Jackson, who struck out twice each.
Since he announced that he will play with the NFL's Los Angeles Raiders in the offseason, Jackson is two for 19 with 11 strikeouts. Bell got him tonight in the first inning and for the final out.
The Orioles got only six hits off Kansas City starter Danny Jackson (4-12), and three didn't get out of the infield. The game-winner was a single by Cal Ripken Jr. with the bases loaded in the fifth.
Bell traced his success to a game five starts ago when Ripken Jr. asked whether he wasn't being too fine. He told Bell his pitches had such good movement that he might consider trying to throw it down the middle.
That's when catcher Terry Kennedy started setting up in the middle of the plate, and, as Bell said, "It's like, 'click,' it's all there. Sometimes, it comes and goes like that."
In his last five games, he has a 2.38 ERA, and tonight he threw 121 pitches, mostly change-ups and medium-speed fastballs.
"He got most of the strikeouts on change-ups," Kennedy said. "But it's such a good pitch they can't always hit it even if they know it's coming. He's still throwing down the middle, but I set up in spots a few times tonight and he hit them. That's the thing about confidence. It's the same thing with all the young pitchers. Now when they start struggling, they can look back and think, 'I had some success in the big leagues. What did I do then?' "
Bell survived tonight despite a rough start, as Willie Wilson lined the first pitch off his right calf. Bell obviously was in pain as he took a few warm-up tosses, barely landing on the front foot.
Seitzer lined his second pitch to right for a single. But after that, Bell was in control, allowing the Royals two base runners in only one other inning, when Seitzer homered and George Brett doubled with two out in the third.
Bell was helped by double plays in the fourth and fifth. For the second straight start, he was consistently ahead in the count.
The only time Danny Jackson was in trouble tonight was when his defense put him there. Seitzer, the third baseman, made errors in the first and second, and second baseman Frank White's error in the fifth helped the Orioles score two runs for a 2-1 lead in a fluky fifth inning.
It began with Larry Sheets and Ken Gerhart beating out infield singles with one out. Lee Lacy then looped a fly into shallow right. White raced out, got under the ball and dropped it, loading the bases.
Jackson almost got out of it. Bill Ripken flied to shallow right for the second out before Ripken Jr. fought off a full-count fastball on his fists and singled to left to score Sheets and Gerhart.
"It's a combination game," Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "We got some timely hitting and great pitching. That's what you have to have."