For O's, the beat goes on

DeShields' hit in 10th caps another O's rally, 2-1 victory over Tigers

Orioles take 4th straight

Mussina goes eight

team sits atop AL East

April 09, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As Mike Bordick slid across home plate with yesterday's winning run, the Orioles completed a 4-1 opening week with a 10-inning, 2-1 decision against the Detroit Tigers.

Delino DeShields' flared single to left field off reliever Doug Brocail finalized the win, but its origin could be traced to Wednesday when a manager's slow hand avoided a bullpen burnout while assuring a team that panic no longer is in vogue within the home dugout.

The Orioles have trailed in every game but awake today atop the AL East. Mike Mussina provided eight adventuresome but effective innings yesterday, leaving with a 2.87 ERA but no decision. Brady Anderson, who once rebelled at the notion, bunted twice in the last three innings, once to advance Bordick to second base with the eventual winning run. A bullpen lampooned last season produced its third win in four days.

"It's just one of those games that for a long time it looked like we really didn't have any business even being in the game, and somehow we hung in there," Mussina said.

Somehow, the Orioles emerged from Friday night's 14-10 win with a bullpen intact. Mussina persevered through 11 baserunners, and his offense found enough to avert a loss.

Outplayed and outpitched for yesterday's first seven innings, they found a way to win for the first time without a Charles Johnson home run.

"It makes you feel good to win games, period. We played well today. I think we play better every game, which is good to see. We kept swinging the bats; we were smart about the way we did things. Fundamentally, we were pretty sound," said Hargrove.

They outlasted Tigers starting pitcher Hideo Nomo and reached Brocail for the tying run in the eighth inning. DeShields continued a solid offensive week with his ninth hit in the 10th. Already, last season is becoming a distant memory. The Tigers helped by going 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position, boosting their season average to .132 in such situations. Three times they pushed runners to third base with fewer than two outs and failed to score.

"You win different ways. Today is a big win. You've got to win games like this -- one-run games. There are little opportunities in games. You win by taking advantage of them."

Hargrove conceded the game's turning point to be "when Nomo came out of the game." However, a more telling juncture may have been Wednesday when he allowed Sidney Ponson to stagger through a 41-pitch, five-run second inning without raiding his bullpen. A quicker hand might have wrecked the bullpen. Instead, Chuck McElroy and Al Reyes (1-0) were able to stay in role to pick up yesterday's last six outs.

Because Hargrove has coaxed an average of more than six innings out of his starters, he has allowed a reconstructed bullpen to hold games for his offense.

"Of these four we've won how many would we have won [last year]?" recited Mussina. "Today was questionable. The game we were down 7-5 [Wednesday]. that game's probably questionable. The game we won 6-2 [Thursday] was a lot like this one. I'd say at least one and probably two games we wouldn't have won."

Mussina's comparison is to last April's bullpen burnout. The rotation produced only 26 innings the first five games, including 2 2/3 from a frazzled Ponson. The fallout from manager Ray Miller's attempt to salvage each game proved disastrous.

"If you play for one game, you have to realize what the consequences are," Bordick said.

Sensing pressure from the warehouse, from a first-year general manager and from his own uncertain status, Miller was never able to relinquish a game. In return, he lost a pitching staff.

The first week has served as a contrast. By preserving his bullpen, Hargrove was able to use Buddy Groom for a three-inning save Wednesday, Only Reyes has been seen more than twice. He has yet to warm without being summoned.

"You have to look at the bigger picture than April 4 or April 5 or April 7," said Mussina. "There's a bigger picture than that. It's not Game 7 of a playoff series. [Hargrove] understands we have to make our starters go a little farther. Those are innings the bullpen doesn't have to eat up. That allows them to pitch like they have the last couple nights."

Said McElroy: "Everybody has been picking each other up. Everybody's been put in a good position."

Decidedly not in a good position, the 1-4 Tigers certainly produced enough dazzling defensive plays yesterday to win.

In the fifth inning, third baseman Dean Palmer ranged toward the line to backhand Albert Belle's one-hopper, wheeled to barely beat DeShields at second with the relay nipping Belle at first. The next inning, left fielder Bobby Higginson dived into the gap to steal extra bases from Harold Baines leading off.

The Orioles finally broke through against Nomo in the eighth inning, but even the game-tying rally was blunted by a diving stop by first baseman Tony Clark.

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