O's turn back clock, Rays, 5-1

'70 flashback brings good pitching (Rapp), 3-run HR (Surhoff)

Win is fifth in 6 games

`Guys are starting to settle down'

May 30, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - They turned back the clock for the Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays yesterday, always a positive move for an organization with a storied past, especially when facing a franchise whose idea of a throwback look is to don Single-A uniforms.

True to their roots, the Orioles honored their past with solid starting pitching and a three-run homer to provide for a 5-1 win - theirfifth in six games - and further proof that gray flannel looks good on Pat Rapp when he works quickly and deals strikes.

B.J. Surhoff's three-run homer off Devil Rays starter Steve Trachsel (3-5) completed a four-run second inning that Rapp (4-2) protected well while scattering 11 hits in six-plus innings.

The typically ponderous Rapp managed 18 outs with 87 pitches, including 61 strikes, and relievers Mike Trombley and Buddy Groom overcame shaky seventh-inning defense that briefly threatened a 4-1 lead.

Shortstop Mike Bordick restored a four-run cushion with his 10th home run, leaving him only three shy of his career high with 114 games remaining. Albert Belle had three hits and closer Mike Timlin capped the retro effort with a scoreless ninth inning before 24,209 at Tropicana Field.

Questions regarding offense rarely faze manager Mike Hargrove because he knows whether Belle is hitting, Surhoff is batting third or eighth or Cal Ripken's back is allowing him to play third base, it's his starting rotation that will set the course for this team.

Yesterday's Orioles looked like their 1970 ancestors, making one big inning stand up against a13-hit barrage that included only one extra-base hit.

Rapp's performance left the rotation with a 3.22 ERA over its last 13 starts while averaging more than six innings. For the first time in weeks, the bullpen appears in sync. Pitchers are again identified with specific roles.

"We're close. But you can't tell for sure until we have a couple close games in a row. That'll tell," said pitching coach Sammy Ellis.

"Our starters have been throwing the ball great," said Trombley, who got his two outs in five pitches. "That makes it a lot easier. I think everybody's comfortable again."

Said Hargrove: "I think guys are starting to settle down a little bit. ... It's about time."

Hargrove labeled Trombley's effort as "tremendous" and happily noted the effectiveness of Groom and Timlin. The relievers have allowed only two earned runs in their last 12 innings.

Rapp's chief complaint was throwing "too many strikes." He threw pitched with confidence and mixed his pitches more often than in his previous start, when 100 of his 113 pitches were fastballs. "I didn't walk anybody, did I?" he quipped, knowing the answer was no for only the second time in 10 starts.

Hargrove estimated before yesterday's game that his club ranks "somewhere around the middle of the pack" offensively. In fact, the Orioles find themselves in the league's lower reaches in run production, having outscored only last-place Tampa Bay and Detroit and frustrated New York while ranking ninth in home runs.

But for an afternoon, at least, the Orioles' cleanup hitter and their deposed No. 3 bat resembled their credentials. Belle mashed three hits, including two doubles, and Surhoff continued to correct a disastrous May.

"A lot of times when you look at good hitters that have been struggling, how they get their hits is more indicative than the fact they got hits," Hargrove said. "And they looked good getting those hits. They were good solid at-bats."

The Orioles piled on Trachsel for a four-run second inning because of an error by Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff followed by Surhoff's sixth home run, a three-run shot to center field.

Belle, who has sat on five home runs for two weeks, led off the inning with a single and took third when Will Clark's grounder got by McGriff. Right fielder Jeff Conine then continued a recent surge with a single to score Belle for a 1-0 lead.

A week ago Hargrove contemplated sitting Surhoff because of his profound slump. But in the past four games, Surhoff has produced his first RBIs after a 57 at-bat drought, his first multi-hit game since May 7 and his first three-run homer of the season.

Surhoff added a single in the seventh inning just as Belle doubled in the third for his first multi-hit game since May 21.

Given a 4-0 lead, Rapp, who earned his three previous wins with 20 runs of support, never caved.

He escaped a first-inning jam made worse by a Conine error by striking out McGriff and getting Vinny Castilla on a comebacker.

Consecutive two-out hits in the third inning again brought a rally to McGriff. This time second baseman Delino DeShields robbed him with a diving stop-and-throw to his left.

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