-- As an absurdist's rendering of a baseball game entered its 16th inning and its seventh hour early Saturday morning, three members of the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation had their game spikes on -- and none of them was Matt Riley, the game's original starter, who had long ago showered and dressed, and who would be demoted to Class AAA Ottawa after the game.
Rookie Daniel Cabrera, who had started two nights earlier in Kansas City, was finishing his warmup tosses in the bullpen, about to make his first big league relief appearance. He had put his spikes on in the ninth inning at the suggestion of pitching coach Ray Miller, not believing for a moment he would have to use them.
Sidney Ponson, who had started three nights earlier, also volunteered to pitch, and would have followed Cabrera if the game had worn on.
And Rodrigo Lopez, who was only a little more than 24 hours removed from his Thursday night start, was not going to pitch. But he was ready to play the outfield in the event of an injury. "I couldn't throw -- my arm was dead," he said. "But I could catch a fly ball."
As the Orioles dabbed at their wounds and rubbed their sore muscles Saturday -- a matter of mere hours since the end of their 7-6, 16-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the wee hours Saturday, a game that that took a franchise-record 6 hours 15 minutes to play -- they thought back to a game few of them will ever forget.
They recalled shortstop Miguel Tejada's heroic night, which included a game-tying homer, a game-saving defensive play and a game-winning hit in the top of the 16th.
"My legs," Tejada said Saturday, "felt like they were going to die. But my mind was strong."
They recalled the combined effort of a bullpen that did not allow an earned run in 15 innings of work.
"It was comical after a while," said right-hander Mike DeJean. "Guys were just grinding and grinding and grinding."
But what stood out to Manager Lee Mazzilli were the many acts of selflessness on the part of players who went beyond their assigned roles -- or at least volunteered to. When Mazzilli closed the clubhouse doors and addressed his team before Saturday night's game, that's where he began.
"I told them how proud I was of what they did last night," Mazzilli said. "You've got a catcher [Javy Lopez] who caught 16 innings, and a 39-year-old guy at first base [Rafael Palmeiro] who played 16 innings. I've got [starters] in the bullpen who are volunteering to pitch. I've got a [pitcher] volunteering to go play the outfield if something happened. That's pretty impressive. That's unity of a team."
The Orioles' immediate concern Saturday was piecing together a lineup and determining which bullpen arms -- they had all been used Friday night -- were capable of pitching, and for how long. Right-hander Rick Bauer was brought in from Ottawa as a reinforcement, his services being in great need given the prospect of games here Saturday night and Sunday, followed by a day-night doubleheader Monday in Baltimore.
Beyond the immediate concerns, however, the Orioles believe they may have experienced a watershed moment, a team-wide epiphany, a transcendent victory that just might propel them to -- well, to something better than what they have now.
"Nights like that," Miller said, "are like the birth of a ballclub."
"I think our time is right now," Tejada said. "It's like I always said. We are winning some big games. Now everybody knows we can come back and win."
In the game's final moments, with two outs in the bottom of the 16th and Phillies runners on first and second, Miller made his umpteenth trip to the mound, walked up to the 6-foot-7 Cabrera and gazed into his face.
"Hey," Miller recalled telling Cabrera, "you've got great stuff. You're the best, man, and I appreciate you being out here. I know if you throw this ball right down the [expletive] middle with your best stuff on it, we'll win."
"Okay, Papi," Cabrera said.
Cabrera threw his next pitch down the middle with his best stuff on it, and Placido Polanco popped it up to first base. The game was over.