Harold Baines has long since abandoned his fielder's glove. His sore quadriceps and 40-year-old knees don't get him around the bases like they used to. But his bat is as sound as ever, which is all that matters. You don't need youthful wheels during a home run trot.
Baines, the Baltimore Orioles' timeless hitting machine, smashed a three-run homer in the eighth inning tonight, leading the Orioles to a 7-5 comeback victory over the Oakland Athletics in front of 26,247 at Network Associates Coliseum and lifting them to 3-2 on their nine-game road trip.
"He's just a great hitter," said Manager Ray Miller. "Hopefully that will pick us up a little bit."
By the time Baines came to bat with two runners on and two outs in the eighth, with the Orioles trailing 5-3, the A's already had exhausted their only left-handed reliever, Buddy Groom, earlier in the inning. A's Manager Art Howe had no choice but to stay with T.J. Mathews -- who had been summoned to pitch to Albert Belle, but yielded a single.
On the Orioles' bench, Miller must have been smiling. It was exactly the kind of situation for which the Orioles keep Baines around, and he drilled the first pitch from Mathews into the seats in left-center for his 10th homer of the season, tying him for the team lead. The homer completed a comeback from a 5-0 deficit after three innings.
B.J. Surhoff, who was supposed to have the day off but got called into action as a pinch hitter for Jeff Conine, followed with a solo homer to right.
"This was a hell of a comeback," Baines said. "In the first five innings, it didn't look like we would get anything."
The sudden eighth-inning power display made a winner of left-hander Doug Johns (1-1), who pitched four shutout innings in relief of starter Jason Johnson. Arthur Rhodes, who was elevated to co-closer earlier this week by Miller, pitched the ninth for his second save.
The Orioles (19-29) came into the game hitting just .202 on the road trip, and for the second night in a row made a struggling A's starter look like the second coming of Cy Young. One night after knuckleballer Tom Candiotti retired the first 12 Orioles in a row en route to a 2-1 win, Gil Heredia was nearly as good.
Heredia, who had surrendered 16 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts, faced the minimum through the first five innings. His only base runner in that time, Delino DeShields, who singled with one out in the third, was erased on a double play by Tommy Davis.
The Orioles finally got to Heredia and had the makings of a big inning in the sixth, when DeShields and Davis stroked one-out singles -- for Davis, it was his first major league hit -- and Brady Anderson doubled down the right field line, scoring DeShields and making the score 5-1.
Heredia's night ended in the seventh, when Belle led off with a double -- amazingly, just his second of the season -- and Baines followed with a single. Conine greeted former Oriole Doug Jones with an RBI single, cutting the lead to 5-3 and setting up Baines's dramatic blast.
Johnson, who was making his second start since being called up from Class AAA Rochester, lasted just three innings. He put the Orioles in a 3-0 hole in the second inning, helped by center fielder Anderson, who misplayed two balls into doubles in the inning.
Davis, the Orioles' rookie catcher who made his first career start in place of Charles Johnson, who got a rare day off, figured into the scoring in a way he did not intend. In the third, with one out and a runner on first, Davis was called for catcher's interference when Olmeda Saenz nicked his glove on a swing. The next batter, Ben Grieve, smacked a two-run double to left-center, making the score 5-0.
Johnson, who was leading the International League in walks at the time of his call-up, walked only one batter in his three innings, but his lack of command showed up in other ways. He went to a full-count three times. As in his last start, he had trouble getting his curveball over the plate, forcing him to rely on fastballs.
"I was mad enough to kill everybody after four innings," Miller said. "The pitching sets the tempo for everything. I didn't like his tempo. You can't have people standing out there 35 or 40 seconds between pitches."
Johnson, who essentially is getting a three-start tryout as the Orioles' fifth starter, will need to do better against left-handed hitters to hold onto the job. In two starts, lefties are hitting .333 (8 for 24) against him.
CAPTION: The Orioles' Brady Anderson twists as ball turns away from him. Sunlight caused the center fielder to lose track of fly ball hit by Athletics' Olmedo Saenz during second inning in Oakland, Calif.