O's put on best face, 1-0

Trade suspect Guzman holds Angels for 8 as streaky club wins 4th

July 24, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Each time the Orioles appear ready to fold, they somehow manage to up the ante. Games are lost, and so is precious ground within the division, but they play another hand and rake in the chips.

Their stack continues to grow.

The Orioles ran their winning streak to four last night by getting eight shutout innings from Juan Guzman and another calm finish from Mike Timlin in a 1-0 victory over the Anaheim Angels before 43,945 at Camden Yards.

The distance between themselves and the wild-card leader has been slashed to reasonable proportions. And with the trade deadline one week away, they must decide whether to start dealing.

It's a gamble either way. Where it once seemed clear the Orioles would raise the white flag, they now find it getting heavier to lift after achieving nine victories in their last 11 games and climbing to fourth place in the AL East.

Numerous scouts from contending clubs, including one last night from the Arizona Diamondbacks, are keeping close tabs on veterans the Orioles (43-53) could be willing to part with, but their grip may be tightening.

"I hope it's a very difficult [decision] for everybody," said manager Ray Miller. "[General manager] Frank Wren and ownership have told me if any deals were made, they would be made to help us right now as well as in the future. Anything you can do to improve the club and make it better right now, then that's the right thing to do."

"We're playing like they thought we'd play in the beginning, like we should have been playing and will continue to play," Timlin said. "This club is capable of running off 20 games in a row. I know that. But they're going to do what they're going to do. But no, I wouldn't like to see this club broken up."

No game would be complete without another milestone for Cal Ripken. His fourth-inning RBI was the 1,555th of his career, tying Willie McCovey for 30th place on baseball's all-time list. It also produced the only run off Jack McDowell, who left with two outs in the sixth and the Orioles holding a precarious lead.

Making his first start of the season, McDowell scattered six hits, but was out-dueled by Guzman, who won for only the second time in five weeks. Guzman, one of the Orioles most likely to be traded by next weekend, put at least one runner on base in every inning except the third and eighth. None got farther than second.

Guzman was removed after 110 pitches for left-hander Jesse Orosco, who retired Garret Anderson before Timlin recorded his 11th save. It marked the second time Timlin protected a one-run lead in the ninth to get the save. He's blown five of them.

Ripken bailed out Guzman in the seventh inning by dropping to his knees to snag a hard one-hopper near the line by Gary DiSarcina and throwing to second to start a double play. Ripken had crept up on the grass, giving him a little extra time to react on a ball that could have hastened Guzman's departure with the bullpen active.

Guzman continued an impressive stretch by Orioles starters, who have given up four runs in the last 33 innings. They've allowed two runs or fewer in nine of the last 10 games.

The Orioles achieved a victory of sorts long before the last out was recorded. Just getting Guzman through the first inning without permitting a run was cause for celebration.

In one of the numerical oddities of the season, Guzman's ERA before last night was 10.42 in the first inning and 3.26 for the rest of the game. He had been scored upon in the first in 12 of 19 starts, allowing a total of 22 runs.

Pitching coach Bruce Kison has tried varying Guzman's warmup routine before games, including the suggestion that he throw a simulated inning in the bullpen. He threw more than that last night. Miller started a different catcher, Mike Figga, who sets a lower target than Charles Johnson.

"The first inning, he lacks command, for whatever reason," Miller said. "Sometimes that becomes a mental thing."

It was put out of Guzman's mind last night as he stranded a runner in scoring position while winning for the third time since May 27.

He issued a leadoff walk to Darin Erstad, bringing groans from fans who have seen this act too many times. Erstad stole second, beating the one-hop throw from Figga. Guzman got the next two hitters, including Mo Vaughn on a deep liner to right, but Tim Salmon walked. Rather than pay for his sins, Guzman retired Anderson -- who later extended his hitting streak to 14 games -- on a grounder to third.

Cover the lockers in plastic and break out the champagne.

"That was good for him and great for me," Miller said.

"That helped a lot," Guzman said. "We did a lot of work in the bullpen. That's why I couldn't finish the game. I threw a couple innings in the bullpen so I could get through the first inning.

"My stuff was really good. I had good location. All my pitches were working. And I was down in the strike zone, something I've been working on."

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