After seven losses in seven games, clearly it was going to take an act of God for the Baltimore Orioles to beat the Cleveland Indians. Such an act finally came today -- twice, in fact.
Tropical Storm Dennis crept into town, blowing Indians homers back into play, and Orioles journeyman starter Doug Linton earned his first major league victory in three years. He held the American League's most feared offense to four hits over seven innings for a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd of 47,095 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
It was the Orioles' first win in eight tries this season against the Indians. It also was Linton's first victory in the majors since Sept. 11, 1996, completing a comeback from "Tommy John" surgery -- in which a ligament was taken from his left wrist and re-attached to his right elbow -- on March 4, 1997.
"It seems like a big relief," Linton said, "coming back from Tommy John surgery and not pitching at this level, and having a decent game."
Linton's three-year odyssey between victories began in Kansas City, where he was a serviceable starter in 1996. After his operation in 1997, he went to the New York Yankees' spring training camp in 1998, then to the Minnesota Twins' Class AAA affiliate in Salt Lake City, then to the Puerto Rican Winter League. He came to the Orioles as a free agent in December, then went to Class AAA Rochester in mid-April. He returned to the Orioles on Aug. 20.
"I've never been one to quit," said Linton, 34. "But it's never been easy for me. I've been up and down the ladder from the minors to the majors quite a few times."
Today, Linton (1-2) pitched by far his best game in five starts with the Orioles, getting ahead in the count and keeping the ball down. He gave up only two walks, both to cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez. Take away Ramirez, and Linton fell behind 2-0 only twice. In his diciest moment, he got Jim Thome to hit a checked-swing flare to third baseman Ryan Minor to end the sixth with two runners on base.
"As long as he keeps the ball down and changes speeds well, he can pitch up here," Manager Ray Miller said.
Locked in a 1-1 tie, the Orioles gave Linton a lead in the sixth. Jeff Conine doubled in B.J. Surhoff, who had drawn a one-out walk off Bartolo Colon (15-5), and recent call-up Jerry Hairston singled off Colon's left shin for an RBI single.
Two days ago, Miller referred to this as a "bullpen start," meaning he hoped to get five innings out of Linton and patch the rest of the game with the handful of relievers he had available. But Linton surprised Miller by going deep into the game.
However, Linton had plenty of help from his defense and from the leading edge of Dennis, which arrived this afternoon for what is expected to be a long, sloppy stay. With a brisk wind blowing in, the Indians flied out to the warning track four times -- twice in the seventh inning when rookie center fielder Eugene Kingsale had trouble tracking down blasts by Richie Sexson and former Oriole Harold Baines, but made difficult grabs near the wall.
"The wind was blowing in pretty hard," Kingsale said.
Dennis is expected to wreak havoc upon the final two games of this series. But with the Indians still battling the Yankees for the best record in the league and, thus, home-field advantage in the playoffs, the American League likely will do whatever it can to get the games in.
After the shaky seventh inning, Linton gave way to right-hander Al Reyes. In perhaps the biggest at-bat of the game, former Oriole and perennial all-star Roberto Alomar came to the plate with the potential tying runs on base and one out.
Studying the matchups, Miller saw that the switch-hitting Alomar was 0 for 9 in his career against left-hander Jesse Orosco -- even though they hadn't faced each other since 1995. Miller brought Orosco in to the game, turning Alomar to the right side, and Orosco induced an inning-ending double play.
"We were going on four-year-old stats," Miller said.
Closer Mike Timlin worked the ninth inning for his 10th consecutive save and 19th overall, preserving Linton's victory.
Linton knows his next start is not guaranteed. With 20-year-old phenom Matt Riley on his way from Class AA Bowie and left-hander Doug Johns filling in admirably while Mike Mussina rests a sore right shoulder, Linton may wind up back in the bullpen.
"All I know," Miller said, "is if you keep getting people out, you'll pitch a lot."