BALTIMORE, JULY 17 -- Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Al Jackson spent several minutes before tonight's game against the Texas Rangers talking about his concern for starter Pete Harnisch's confidence.
Harnisch spent the rest of the night relieving Jackson of that burden. He allowed four hits in 8 2/3 innings to lead the Orioles to a 5-3 victory at Memorial Stadium, their seventh win in nine games.
After allowing two hits with one out in the first, Harnisch retired 22 consecutive batters before Geno Petralli singled to lead off the ninth. When Julio Franco doubled with two out in the inning, Orioles Manager Frank Robinson called for Gregg Olson.
Olson allowed a two-run single to Rafael Palmeiro, then struck out Ruben Sierra to earn his 20th save.
"I was hoping he could get it done," Robinson said of Harnisch completing the game. "But I have to allow my relievers a chance to make a mistake and still save the ballgame."
Olson is just the fourth pitcher in major league history to record 20 or more saves in each of his first two seasons. The others are Boston Dick Radatz (1962, '63), Cincinnati's Rawley Eastwick (1975, '76) and St. Louis's Todd Worrell (1986, '87).
Now, back to Harnisch, who was winless in his previous four starts.
"I've had better stuff," he said. "But as far as hitting spots, putting the ball where I wanted to and getting pitches when I needed them, tonight was the best."
Said Robinson: "It was almost like a perfect game. He was in complete control."
The Orioles tied the game in the second with a run that scored when a two-out fly ball by Mike Devereaux fell between center fielder Pete Incaviglia and right fielder Sierra for a double.
They went ahead with two out in the fourth when Joe Orsulak, making his first start since injuring his ankle four games ago, hit a three-run homer off the right field foul pole.
They scored an unearned run in the seventh to make it 5-1.
Again, back to Harnisch.
His locker contains a monument to his occasional outbursts of frustration. It is the blade of a sand wedge that dangles from the end of a long, knotted strip of athletic tape attached to the top.
"The club had a little accident," Harnisch said.
Jackson said before the game Harnisch "has not been sharp as far as his command of the strike zone" in his four starts before tonight.
But Jackson seemed more concerned about Harnisch's ability to cope with the slump than he was about the slump itself. Harnisch, 23, is still in his first full season as starter, and Jackson has spoken with him frequently about how patience and confidence can smooth out a season's worth of ups and downs.
"Good pitchers don't stay in slumps for long," Jackson said. "But when you lose confidence, that's when you stay in slumps.
"Pete's such a hyper person that when things don't go right for him, it's tough for him to stay in the game. He's a little confused because it's been harder for him to do things he did when he was in a good streak. I think he's subconsciously wondering when he's going to win again."
Those thoughts began swirling around Harnisch's mind in the first inning. With one out, Franco singled and went to third when Palmeiro singled on a hit-and-run with the count 1-2. He scored on Sierra's lineout to the warning track in left.
"I was kind of down at that point," Harnisch said. "I just said to myself 'Don't let them get any more, don't let them get anymore.' "
Palmeiro was caught stealing to end the inning and Harnisch was untouchable until the ninth. He became the first Orioles pitcher to retire 22 or more consecutive batters since Scott McGregor retired 24 in a row during a two-hit, 7-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 26, 1986.
"My change-up was the main thing," Harnisch said. "I was able to throw it for strikes early and because I had established that, they couldn't jump out on the fastball and slider."
He struck out the side in the third, using a slider that dove in for strike three each time. It was only the second time this season an Orioles starter had struck out the side. Jay Tibbs did so April 21 against the Tigers.
The Orioles wasted a one-out double by Orsulak and a two-out walk by Mickey Tettleton in the first, but tied the score with the gift run in the second.
With two out and Tim Hulett on first after a fielder's choice, Devereaux hit a line drive that was headed almost exactly between the spots where Incaviglia and Sierra had been positioned. Both sprinted after the ball, but as they closed on it, Sierra looked up and saw the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Incaviglia still charging hard. He began to pull up, Incaviglia couldn't make the play and the ball fell for a double as Hulett rounded third and headed for home.
Craig Worthington and Hulett singled to begin the fourth inning, but Devereaux grounded into a double play on which Worthington advanced to third.
Starter Kevin Brown (11-7) walked Phil Bradley and fell behind Orsulak, 3-0. Pitching coach Tom House visited the mound and Brown threw a strike. Orsulak pulled his next pitch, an inside fastball, down the right field line. The ball hit the foul pole about five feet above the top of the wall for Orsulak's ninth homer of the season.