BALTIMORE, AUG. 3 -- Cal Ripken, by all accounts, is back. And, with tonight's 14-1 rout of the Kansas City Royals, so too are the Baltimore Orioles -- back at .500 for the first time since mid-June.

Ripken, whose pre-All-Star Game struggles at the plate had many calling for the veteran shortstop to take a day or two off, struck a first-inning blow against the visitors for the fourth straight night, a three-run home run that set up the Orioles' eighth victory in 10 games against the struggling Royals, before 39,756 at Memorial Stadium.

What followed Ripken's initial blast -- yes, he hit two for the ninth time -- was a barrage usually reserved for the Oakland A's. Joe Orsulak's two-run shot in the second made it 5-0. Back-to-back solo homers by Ripken and Sam Horn in the third gave John Mitchell a seven-run lead. When it was over, Baltimore had 16 hits off four pitchers, winning for the second time in the four-game series with its highest total since a 16-6 victory over Toronto on June 27, 1989.

Things turned ugly in the sixth when the benches emptied after Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson, the first batter faced by Steve Crawford, was hit in the small of the back by Crawford's second pitch. Anderson accepted Crawford's invitation to come forward, which ended up bringing everybody onto the field and delaying the game for more than five minutes.

"In my opinion, he intentionally threw at Brady," Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said.

The dispute apparently resulted from an incident in the fifth, when Anderson attempted to steal a base -- he reached second safely on an Orsulak groundout -- with Baltimore leading, 9-0. Anderson was running, Robinson said, because first baseman George Brett wasn't holding him on. Robinson also cited a game this season in which Toronto rallied from a 10-0 deficit to beat Boston.

"I knew when {Crawford} came out of the bullpen that he was going to throw at me," said Anderson, who was ejected. "He probably thought he had to throw at me, and I thought I had to go out there."

Each of the third-inning homers was allowed by Tom Gordon (6-8), who wasn't visited by anyone from his dugout until after Ripken's second. The crowd roared when Gordon stayed in the game after a brief conference with pitching coach Frank Funk, but its joy didn't last. Manager John Wathan pulled Gordon when the next batter, Mickey Tettleton, singled sharply to left.

By the time he exited, Gordon had allowed six hits and eight runs in two-plus innings.

"Tom Gordon has a great fastball and breaking pitch," Ripken said. "I was fortunate to get ahead in the count, so I was able to cheat a little bit."

In the Orioles' previous two games -- a disappointing 7-4 loss to Toronto on Wednesday and a 5-1 victory over Kansas City on Thursday -- Ripken produced bases-loaded hits to key four-run first innings. Ripken's homer tonight gave the Orioles only 3-0 lead, but it was enough for Mitchell (4-3) and Mickey Weston, who combined on a seven-hitter.

Mitchell didn't have his best stuff -- he threw 53 strikes and 42 balls -- but seemed certain to finish the game with a 12-run lead. However, after whistling a pitch behind Kevin Seitzer in the seventh that again brought both teams out of their dugouts, Mitchell joined Anderson in the clubhouse, the second Oriole ejected by home-plate umpire Dale Ford.

Although the Orioles (53-53) failed to gain ground on division-leading Boston -- which maintained its 4 1/2-game advantage over third-place Baltimore with a victory over Detroit -- they continue to score early and often. They have tallied 14 first-inning runs in the past four games.

It was an early flash of wildness by Gordon (6-8) that gave Ripken a chance to add to his team-leading RBI total. Gordon issued walks to Orsulak and Horn that brought Ripken up with two out, and Ripken hit a 3-1 pitch well over the 360-foot sign in left for his 12th homer.

After Horn's opposite field blast to lead off the third -- his ninth of the season and fourth against the Royals -- Ripken did it again, to virtually the same spot as his first.

"It was a fastball on the first home run, and I was looking for a breaking ball on the second one," Ripken said. "When you're swinging the bat well, these things happen."

Since June 13, when Ripken was shifted from the third spot in the lineup to either fifth or six, he is hitting almost .330. He has 12 RBI in his past four games, 11 in first-inning at-bats. He has an eight-game hitting streak and leads the Orioles with 62 RBI.

Ripken made a bid for the first three-homer game of his career in the next inning, driving a pitch off Luis Encarnacion into the upper deck, but just left of the left field foul pole. It was his first two-homer performance at home since he did it against Chicago on July 13, 1984.