Orioles 5, Athletics 3
-- He had become the butt of jokes, the man who had conquered the minors but couldn't get a sniff of a major league save. If he ever got a save, his teammates said, Todd Williams would keep the ball and build a room in his home just to house it. It had become that important to him.
Williams had even mapped out the scenarios in which it could happen. One of them, in which an exhausted B.J. Ryan was given the day off, played itself out as the ninth inning approached on Wednesday against the Oakland Athletics. When the last pitch from Williams in Baltimore's 5-3 win popped into catcher Sal Fasano's mitt, one man had finally reached his goal and an entire team, somber for almost two months, was having fun again.
Williams went into an instant celebration, pumping his fist and flailing his arms.
"He almost gave me a concussion," Fasano said.
The Orioles are an unlikely team now, from the manager -- a bench coach forced into the job who has started a resurgence -- to the starting pitcher, who found out he was to pitch only 20 minutes before Wednesday's game, to the interim closer, with 222 career minor league saves, recording the last out of a close game.
At McAfee Coliseum, a place where they had lost 10 consecutive games, the Orioles have found a bit of hope, perhaps one last stand to save a season. Dismissed as recently as four days ago, Baltimore is now seven games out of playoff contention after sweeping the wild-card-leading A's in Oakland for the first time since 1993. The Orioles are once again a .500 team and can truly thrust themselves back into contention this weekend against the Cleveland Indians, one of four teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings.
"There's a lot of people that expected our team to be going down, but we're not down," Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "We have a long way to go and we just have to keep playing hard. We're not out of this yet. Everybody saw what we do earlier in this season. We got right back."
Only 30 minutes prior to the game pitcher Eric DuBose went to the outfield and watched scheduled starter Daniel Cabrera begin his warmup throws. Less than five minutes into his warmup, Cabrera felt a pain in the middle of his back.
"I was good when I started warming up," Cabrera said. "I went through my normal routine, running, stretch and it was when I started throwing" he felt pain.
Sam Perlozzo also watched Cabrera throw in the bullpen and when the tall right-hander winced in pain, the interim manager knew he had to find an alternative. He chose DuBose, who had spent most of the season in Class AA. Without an opportunity to scour the scouting report, DuBose was asked to quickly prepare for the start.
"I think that did work to my advantage today," DuBose said. "I didn't have a chance to think about the start or what I would do in this situation or whatever."
DuBose was superb, allowing just one hit in six innings. He carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
"I was content if the guy could get through five and save us a little bit, maybe we can piece something together," Perlozzo said. "But he was rolling right along. We toyed with the idea of now if he does get the start, not telling him."
The clubhouse after the game roared in celebration for Williams, one of the most well-liked players on the team. The team had rallied around the 34-year-old Williams, who has pitched 8111/3 innings in the minors.
"I've been in Triple-A almost my whole life," Williams said. "They understand that. They know how much it means to me to get one [save] here. I take a big razzing about how many [saves] I have in the minor leagues. To get that, the emotions were just unbelievable."
Perlozzo, who has appeared to bring life to the clubhouse, is 9-4 as manager and is quickly building a case to get the job full time. He already has one important supporter.
"He's doing a great job right now," Tejada said. "He's been doing a great job with me right now with the defense. He deserves it. He does a great job. Everybody has confidence in him. Everybody feels comfortable. If they decide to give him a job, why not?"