Surhoff slams door on skid, Yankees, 7-3

Grand slam gives O's 1st win since June 22

Kamieniecki gets save

July 05, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- An early-inning advantage vanishes almost immediately after one manager's debatable move introduces his bullpen to the game. A home run reverses the outcome, culminating a run of dogged at-bats.

This time, before a well-baked Independence Day crowd of 37,046 at Yankee Stadium, an Orioles opponent instead of an Orioles reliever felt the stinging sensation as left fielder B. J. Surhoff broke open a 3-3 game with his fifth career grand slam, this one against New York Yankees right-hander Ramiro Mendoza. The Orioles won, 7-3, ending their 10-game losing streak when Scott Kamieniecki emerged from eight days of inactivity with three shutout innings to save Juan Guzman's win.

Pawing at his post-game meal, manager Ray Miller said, "This is the first time I've felt like eating in 10 days."

Amazing what Surhoff's five RBIs did for an appetite. Surhoff's 19 home runs and 65 RBIs lead the Orioles. He is only three home runs and 27 RBIs shy of career highs he established last season.

Kamieniecki ended a run of bullpen disasters with only the bullpen's 21st scoreless day this season. Almost given up for career-dead a month ago, he gave a lockdown effort after warming 10 times without an appearance the previous five games.

"One of the things about being in the bullpen, you don't mess around," said Kamieniecki. "I don't have to pace myself. I don't have to grope for the feel to a game. I can come in, rear back and let it fly. I don't have to worry about pitch count, about whether 100 pitches is going to be it."

The Orioles didn't bother cranking up the stereo for atmosphere. Instead they celebrated significant performances by many, including seventh-inning at-bats by shortstop Mike Bordick and rescued ex-Yankees catcher Mike Figga. The win broke a five-game losing streak against the Yankees and a disastrous 1-10 run against division foes that sucked any postseason hopes from their year. Beating the Yankees in a Roger Clemens start only sweetened the taste.

"We don't give up," said Bordick. "Offensively, we're out there trying to score as much as we can. We knew it was going to be a tough game with Clemens. But we don't give up."

On this day, no glaring deficiency or late game-changing mistake robbed the Orioles of an otherwise deserved win. An offense overshadowed by the bullpen's recent collapse kept coming after Clemens until stifling heat and 112 pitches forced Yankees manager Joe Torre to remove him, perhaps a hitter early, in favor of Mendoza, who promptly surrendered four runs in the seventh.

Guzman (4-6) again experienced problems getting out of the first inning. Instead of withering, he crested in the middle innings, at one point gaining seven consecutive outs on strikeouts. The win was his first since his complete-game shutout in Atlanta on June 12.

Miller remains critical of Guzman's inefficient style, which creates high pitch counts and ponderous pace. However, since going 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA in April, Guzman's numbers suggest that he is past the shoulder problems that plagued him the previous two seasons. In his last 12 starts Guzman is 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA. He also has 23 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings covering his last three starts, form consistent with his performance before shoulder woes began tracking him in 1997.

"I was more consistent in the strike zone. I felt I was hitting the strike zone 80 percent of the time," Guzman said. "My pitches are getting really good. My shoulder is getting stronger. It seems like I'm getting better."

Guzman repeatedly exploited plate umpire Greg Kosc's wide strike zone, much to the distraction of Yankees hitters who complained repeatedly. Surhoff's grand slam was the last pitch Kosc saw as heat exhaustion forced him from the field.

Surhoff's first-inning single and seventh-inning slam extended his hitting streak to 11 games. The left fielder has hit in 47 of his last 51 games and according to Torre deserves to be named to his first All-Star team on Wednesday. Surhoff hasn't hurt his candidacy by pounding the Yankees for a .400 average (10-for-25) and nine RBIs in the last 11 days. "I feel good at the plate. When I haven't felt good I've been able to squeak one in. There's been some luck involved," said Surhoff, at .338 hitting 61 points above his career average.

The game-changing rally reached him after Jeff Conine's leadoff double and Cal Ripken's single forced a 3-2 game. With one out and Figga approaching, Torre pulled Clemens for Mendoza.

A Yankee until claimed on waivers June 6, Figga appeared in only two games as the Yankees' third catcher. He was the last player on an Opening Day roster to receive an at-bat and would have landed in Triple-A Columbus had the Orioles not secured him.

Figga moved Ripken to third with a one-out double that short-hopped the center-field fence. Had Mendoza, or Clemens, retired Figga, left-hander Mike Stanton would have been imported to face Brady Anderson in search of the final out. Miller later agreed Figga's hit was the inning's most telling.

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