O's walk away with 2-1 victory

Lowe's pass to Mora with bases loaded in 9th drops Boston

April 06, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

It took the Orioles only three games to keep their spring promise. Last night, they left Camden Yards drained after a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox that was part brilliant starting pitching, part bizarre base running and all suspense.

For the second time, they beat last year's American League saves leader, Derek Lowe, on the game's last pitch, this time a bases-loaded walk to center fielder Melvin Mora.

The Orioles frustrated a chilled crowd of 33,469 by losing four outs on the bases but compensated with the most efficient performance of Jason Johnson's roller coaster career. They won with a ninth-inning rally that began with Brady Anderson's leadoff double and included consecutive intentional walks to load the bases. Mora drove in the winning run with an adventuresome at-bat in which he danced out of the way of an inside pitch before finally accepting Lowe's walk.

Gone are the Orioles of the three-run homer. In their place is a team that can win a three-game series with 12 hits, no home runs and a helter-skelter running game.

"It's tough to score four unless you score one first," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I'm not going to say we won't play for the big inning, but we're the type club that we have to be fundamentally sound offensively. We need to score the runs we should score and take the extra runs as they come."

Each run is now a small victory. Each lead is considered precious. This win went to left-handed reliever Buddy Groom for delivering the final two outs in the ninth inning. It could also be attributed to Johnson's newfound tenacity and an offense able to do enough with less.

"Our pitching was the difference," said second baseman Jerry Hairston. "They did a great job. It was a well-pitched series and well-played. We were both trying to scratch for runs and fortunately for us we scratched a little harder."

The Orioles scratched for one hit through four innings before Cal Ripken followed Mora's double into the left-center-field gap with a single pulled into the same vicinity.

For Ripken, the RBI ended an 0-for-8 drought, just after Mora had halted an 0-for-7 run. Looking for any sign of progress, Ripken turned on several pitches last night after producing a series of right-side grounders in the first two games. Ripken appears to be gradually overcoming the mental hurdle of not worrying about aggravating a rib injury with an aggressive swing.

"I just look forward to things settling down, getting some quality at-bats and getting into a flow," said Ripken.

The Orioles won the series with a .162 batting average, .193 slugging percentage and a combined one hit from the third, fourth and fifth spots in the batting order. The reason was a string of solid starts by a rotation considered suspect leaving spring training.

Johnson, a bright spot this spring with a 3-0 record and 2.33 ERA, displayed some of the mind-cramping tendencies that followed him during last season's 1-10 torture. But just as in spring training, he pitched with control and purpose. He walked only one against six strikeouts through eight innings and was allowed to begin the ninth inning having already thrown 100 pitches.

By holding the Red Sox scoreless through five innings, Johnson did something he never accomplished in 13 starts last season. The Red Sox finally reached him in the sixth after consecutive singles by Jose Offerman and Carl Everett to lead off the inning.

The Red Sox pushed across Offerman from third when Troy O'Leary chopped a grounder toward first baseman David Segui. A slight hesitation caused Segui to take the ball on the second hop, just enough of a break to allow Offerman to beat the throw with a fadeaway hand tag.

It was all Johnson would allow. Stopped two outs shy of his first nine-inning performance, he piled 8 1/3 innings atop the earlier work of starters Pat Hentgen and Sidney Ponson. The rotation completed the series with four earned runs allowed in 24 innings, a 1.50 ERA. They exit without a win, however.

Every play, every base carries significance for a team that must live on the margins to win. Last night placed the Orioles' base running under a harsh light.

Three times the super-aggressive Orioles committed unforced errors on the bases, none more hurtful than Hairston's premature tag in the sixth inning. It stopped a rally in which the Orioles did everything to manufacture a run except wait for a fly ball to come down.

With Johnson and Boston starter Frank Castillo locked in a 1-1 duel, Hairston's fourth hit of the series began the rally. Castillo's wild pitch pushed him into scoring position, and Anderson's right-side grounder advanced the go-ahead run to third base with one out.

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