O's share glory, first in 4-3 win

Unlikely hero trio of Bordick, Mercedes, Groom stops A's, 4-3

Victory is 6th in row

`When [all] contribute you reach your goals'

April 23, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Their No. 9 hitter leads them in run production. The pitcher who began the season in extended spring training awaiting his turn as fifth starter is tied for the team lead in wins. The left-hander originally viewed as little more than a matchup reliever leads them in saves.

So, naturally, the Orioles awake this morning clutching a share of first place.

Perhaps no game within their 11-5 start better illustrates this young season than the Orioles' 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics yesterday at sun-bleached Network Associates Coliseum. What must be considered the American League's surprise team pushed its winning streak to six games behind Jose Mercedes (2-0) after shortstop Mike Bordick gave them an early lead with his fifth home run and 23rd and 24th RBIs. Rejected A's reliever Buddy Groom averted a late-inning disaster for the second consecutive game by retiring Oriole-killer Matt Stairs for a rally's final out.

"I think this says a lot about the talent we have from top to bottom," said manager Mike Hargrove. "Every situation with every team ... it's when everybody's contributing that you reach your goals. We're picking each other up right now."

Added Hargrove: "I don't think we're playing well over our heads."

The Orioles assured themselves of another series win because Groom rescued Mike Timlin from a bases-loaded, two-out jam created by a pair of ground balls that eluded third baseman Cal Ripken, a walk and a pair of sacrifices. Groom, who hadn't saved a game in either of his last two seasons with the A's, entered for his second save since 1997. His two saves lead the team.

Another win, another bizarre ending.

On Friday night, the Orioles survived the A's six-run eighth inning because Timlin retired consecutive hitters with the bases loaded in the ninth. Yesterday, they entered the ninth with a 4-2 lead only to have the tying run reach second base with one out.

For the second out, Hargrove chose to stay with Timlin, his closer, who was making his third appearance since leaving the disabled list Monday.

"I'm trying to calm him down. I think Mike was on edge," said Hargrove. "That's not a comfortable position for anyone to be in. I went out there trying to help him refocus. He got a ground ball from [Olmedo] Saenz and Cal couldn't handle it. I thought he did well."

"Physically, I'm right where I need to be," said Timlin, who opened the season on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle. "Mentally I'm not there. I'm getting a little better. But it's not easy to get back into the game mentally when you've been outside it watching for two weeks."

Lest there be any uncertainty over Timlin's role, Hargrove spoke forcefully. "He is the closer. We have to get him back to the way he was throwing the ball in spring training," said Hargrove.

After a sacrifice fly created a 4-3 game, Timlin got cleanup hitter Saenz to chop a grounder to third base where Ripken was protecting the line. Ripken stopped the ball with his lunge, keeping the tying run from scoring, but he couldn't recover in time to make a throw. Saenz's infield single proved Timlin's ouster as Groom was summoned to face the left-handed Stairs, who crushed the Orioles with 17 RBIs last season. A more telling statistic proved to be Stairs' .056 average (1-for-18) against left-handers this season. Groom hadn't allowed a hit in eight previous at-bats by left-handed hitters.

On Friday night, Groom got Stairs to ground out on a breaking pitch for the eighth inning's final out. This time he fed him consecutive fastballs. The second became a feeble pop that a sliding Ripken caught in foul territory.

Groom's degree of difficulty only grew when catcher Greg Myers suddenly experienced forearm cramps and had to be removed before Stairs' at-bat.

"The fans think we're trying to freeze Stairs. I'm sitting there with the bases loaded and I've got a brand new pitcher in there standing on the mound," said Hargrove.

Groom relished the save. He received a hostile sendoff from Oakland last season and has been offered an expanded role with his new team. "Every time you succeed in a situation like this it builds confidence," he said. "The next time you go out there you have even more to draw on."

And suddenly the Orioles resemble a marvel. Mercedes picked up his second win after giving Hargrove 5 2/3 aggressive innings. Calvin Maduro, whom Mercedes bumped from the rotation, got seven important outs to take the game to the ninth.

They got there with a lead because Bordick continued his April tear. He turned on A's starter Gil Heredia (1-2) for a two-out, two-run shot into the left-field bleachers in the second inning. Harold Baines' two-out double scored Albert Belle for a 3-0 lead in the third and then scored the Orioles' fourth run in the fifth inning when Stairs' unnecessary throw home sailed past catcher Sal Fasano.

"So far, I've been able to take advantage of the opportunities that have come my way," said Bordick, who has never driven in more than 77 runs in a season, that coming last year. "As long as guys like Will [Clark] keep getting on in front of me and presenting me with opportunities, hopefully it will continue."

Told he is on pace for more than 200 RBIs, Bordick laughed self-consciously. "I certainly don't think that's realistic. I hope you don't, either."

Still, games like yesterday's tease with potential for a team that has known mostly heartache its previous two Aprils.

"It shows the positives we have," said Timlin. "Our big guy [Albert Belle] might not be comfortable hitting right now, but we're still scoring enough. When everybody peaks at the same time, you'll have a great game. When everybody contributes throughout the year, you'll have a better year."

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