O's walk away with 2-1 victory

Mora's base on balls with bases loaded in 9th beats 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 lead-off double and included consecutive intentional walks to load the bases. Mora drove in the winning run with an adventuresome at-bat that saw him dance 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.

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.

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 snapped an 0-for-8 drought, just as Mora had halted an 0-for-7 run. However, the rally died with Ripken's uncharacteristic base-running mistake on a misread fly ball.

Johnson, 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA during spring training, displayed some of the mind-cramping tendencies that followed him during last season's 1-10 torture. 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 score less 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 al-lowed In 24 timings, 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 Jerry Hairston's premature tag in the sixth inning. It killed 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 pitched pushed him into scoring position, and Anderson's right-side grounder advanced the go-ahead run to, third base with one out.

Facing reliever Rich Garces with runners at first and third, Delino DeShields pulled a fly ball to medium right field. Trot Nixon charged, and Hairston retreated to tag. Hairston barely beat Nixon's strong throw for what was initially scored a sacrifice fly for DeShields. The scoreboard hung the run, and the Orioles dugout pulsed. However, for the second time this series, Red Sox manager Jimy Williams called for an appeal to a base.

Third-base umpire Eric Cooper, the same umpire blamed by several Orioles for calling a too-wide strike zone during Hideo Nomo's no-hitter Wednesday, immediately ruled Hairston out.

Enraged, Hairston leapt from the dugout and reached third base almost as quickly as he had sprinted home. Manager Mike Hargrove, who had argued Boston's run earlier in the inning, followed to pull the player from Cooper.

Replays, however, showed Hairston left the base early.

The lapse followed earlier gaffes by Jeff Conine and Ripken. Conine ran into the front end of a double play on Mora's second-inning grounder. Ripken followed his game-tying single in the fifth by running on Brook Fordyce's one-out fly ball to right field. O'Leary easily trapped him.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jose Mercedes (14-7, 4.02 in 2000) vs. Indians' Dave Burba (16-6, 4.47 in 2000)

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