Guzman makes his pitch Ex-Blue Jay baffles Tigers for 7 innings in 6-1 O's victory Wild-card deficit 9 games Slam by Palmeiro, Alomar's RBIs seal win

August 06, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Juan Guzman's dance with perfection yesterday was a two-step, the second batter he faced lining a double into left field. He was tripped up again in the sixth inning, losing his shutout and his lead.

But what his Orioles debut lacked in style and drama, the kind Mike Mussina had brought to the previous night's game, it made up for in substance.

Guzman turned in seven strong innings and was rewarded for his effort, a single by Roberto Alomar again putting the Orioles in front and a grand slam by Rafael Palmeiro removing all doubt in a 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers before 47,733 at Camden Yards. With Boston idle, the Orioles crept to within nine games of the wild card as they prepare for a three-city trip that begins tomorrow in Minnesota.

The cost for acquiring Guzman, 31, from Toronto six days ago wasn't steep: pitcher Nerio Rodriguez and rookie-league outfielder Shannon Carter. Yesterday, it looked like a steal.

Baffling the Tigers with two types of changeups that complemented a 95 mph fastball, Guzman (7-12) permitted five hits, walked one and struck out two. He has allowed only two earned runs in his last four starts, bringing the stuff that had most Orioles rating him among the three toughest right-handers they'd faced in an informal survey by manager Ray Miller before the trade.

"He made great pitches all game," Miller said. "He's always been a great competitor and always throws strikes. What I like the most is he gets the ball and goes after it. There's no messing around. He has great mound presence."

Guzman also has a shoulder he said is feeling its best since surgery last September to remove a bone spur and repair a torn labrum. Missing yesterday were the nerves that can accompany a pitcher's first turn with a new team.

"Basically it felt like any other game," Guzman said. "I went out and did my job, that's it. For years I learned to focus, go out and throw strikes and challenge the hitter. I know how to pitch, I know what to do, and I just go out and do what I know how to do.

"Right now I'm going to focus and do my job, do the same things I've been doing and help the team as much as I can. I'm just happy that I'm on a good club, a club that wants to win. I feel fortunate to be in this uniform."

Four of the last eight batters reached against Guzman. A two-out double by Gabe Alvarez in the seventh threatened a 2-1 lead, but with left-hander Jimmy Key ready in the bullpen, Guzman retired catcher Paul Bako on a slow roller to short. Palmeiro then widened the gap with his eighth-inning blast to center off reliever Sean Runyan, his 34th homer this year and the fifth grand slam of his career.

Alomar also homered leading off the first inning and moved the Orioles (58-55) ahead in the sixth with a two-out single after starter Justin Thompson had walked the bases loaded. Jesse Orosco breezed through the ninth in his 1,003rd appearance, moving past Rich Gossage into fifth place on the all-time list. It also was his 999th game in relief.

Making his first start against the Tigers this year, Guzman carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth. He retired 11 in a row before Brian Hunter reached down for a pitch and grounded a single into center field with one out. Damion Easley walked, and Bobby Higginson lined a single up the middle to score the tying run. Tony Clark followed with a smash at Alomar, who flipped to shortstop Mike Bordick to begin a double play.

"I've been through this situation a lot this year. I know how to get out of a jam," Guzman said.

Higginson, who later was ejected for the second time in two games by umpire Rich Garcia, ended the scoreless streak by Orioles pitchers at 18 innings. Nine of those came from Mussina, who was perfect through 7 2/3 on Tuesday.

Mussina was a tough act to follow, but Guzman held his own. He brought four quality pitches to the mound, including a circle-change that resembled a fastball before biting like a splitter.

"It feels like old times in Toronto," said Alomar, Guzman's former teammate with the Blue Jays. "He's capable of throwing those FTC kinds of games if he stays healthy. Right now, he's healthy. Hopefully, he'll continue to pitch that way. I'm really happy for him."

"That was the same Guzman I've faced," said catcher Lenny Webster. "What I liked the most was he didn't waste many pitches. He knows what he's doing out there. He's known for being a slow starter. If you're going to get to him, you get him early. He gets stronger as he goes on. Today he got through the first couple of innings unscathed.

"It's tough. He's got those two changeups and a slider. With a fastball that's 95 mph, you can't go in there looking for anything off-speed."

Said Guzman: "I'm just going to do my job, keep doing the things I've been doing and help the team as much as I can."

Winners of 20 out of 25 since the break, the Orioles moved three games above .500 for the first time since April 26 and inched closer to the Red Sox. Where they'll be after returning home is anybody's guess.

"We need to win more than Boston and not lose as many as they do. That's common sense," said Eric Davis, who extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a first-inning double.

"We can't control what Boston does. Consequently, we just have to focus on ourselves. Hopefully we'll win out and put the pressure on them."

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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