Hentgen gets hand, 8-3 triumph

Orioles' 4-run fourth gives starter 1st win in coming-home party

Winner gets due in Detroit

April 25, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT - To anyone who believes justice delayed is justice denied, Pat Hentgen offered a convincing rebuttal last night at Comerica Park.

Hentgen, the Orioles' Opening Day starting pitcher, had done everything within his control to win his first four starts only to be left with an 0-2 record through bad luck and poor offensive support. The Orioles had scored eight runs in his starts, only three with Hentgen still in the game. In a perverse way, it was as if they decreed Hentgen wait until last night's coming-home party before giving him his due.

Benefiting from his team's third consecutive double-digit hit game, Hentgen (1-2) grabbed his first win as an Oriole by stifling the Detroit Tigers, 8-3, before a chilled crowd of 14,101 that included about 30 of his friends and relatives.

A Detroit native who attended nearby Fraser High and Western Michigan University, Hentgen waited last winter for the free-agent offer that never came from the Tigers. He eventually signed a two-year, $9.6 million contract with the Orioles, who were accused of overpaying for a pitcher coming off a 15-win season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It's a situation you have no control over. It's very hard to feel something about that. It's in the past," said Hentgen.

Leaving with a five-run lead after seven innings, all Hentgen did last night was provide the Orioles a fourth quality start in five appearances. Instead of starving for support, Hentgen benefited from a four-run fourth inning and three-run seventh as every spot in the batting order contributed at least a run or an RBI. Coupled with Sunday's 10-8 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Orioles own consecutive victories for the first time this season.

Hentgen parried questions about the Tigers' lack of interest, at one point allowing, "Being from here, it's natural you'd be interested. But that never became relevant."

When he had exhausted his circumspect answers, Hentgen summed up his feelings by saying simply: "I love being an Oriole," answered Hentgen. "I love being an Oriole."

There was plenty for Hentgen to love last night against the rag-tag Tigers. Hentgen allowed seven hits in seven innings and left his ERA at 2.82. The right-hander has struck out 23 while allowing only seven walks in 38 1/3 innings, ratios that validate his consistent start.

"His control all year has been amazing," said catcher Brook Fordyce. "That's what's been most impressive to me. His consistency with his command has been remarkable. Tonight we got him some runs and he got a win. He could have a lot more than one right now."

"I think it's a privilege to pitch in the major leagues. To be a starting pitcher is even more of a privilege," said Hentgen. "To get a win - it doesn't matter how you pitch - you have to beat a pitcher from the other clubhouse. You want to be better than him. Winning is what it's all about."

Tigers starter Jeff Weaver (1-4) could do little with an Orioles lineup that entered the game with a .221 average and fewer than 3.5 runs per game but left having elevated its average to a season-high .228. After their bats sleepwalked through their first 16 games, the Orioles have scored 29 runs while hitting .309 in their last four games.

The Orioles received two RBIs and four hits from designated hitter Jay Gibbons. Mike Kinkade, whose exposure is set to increase at third base, contributed three hits to raise his average to .385. The Orioles battered Weaver for five extra-base hits.

Given a 1-0 lead, Hentgen uncharacteristically hurt himself in the second inning. He compounded a leadoff walk of Tony Clark with a two-out walk to Deivi Cruz, who hadn't walked in 60 previous plate appearances. Juan Encarnacion's two-out single brought the Tigers even for the only time.

A bizarre fourth inning gave Hentgen all the runs he would need.

A series of bunts, slow rollers and curious fielding moves allowed the Orioles to score four times on three hits. Gibbons drove in his second run with a double that scored Kinkade from first base. Melvin Mora then reached when Weaver tried unsuccessfully to catch Gibbons at third base on Mora's sacrifice bunt.

The lapse compounded itself when Fordyce grounded to Weaver. Rather than take a routine out, Weaver attempted an awkward spinning throw to stop Gibbons at the plate. He threw accurately but surprised catcher Brandon Inge, who dropped the ball for an error.

Brady Anderson singled home the inning's third run and Mike Bordick scored Jerry Hairston on what was officially scored as the inning's fourth fielder's choice.

The Tigers could have had Hentgen last winter by showing minimal interest. However, cash flow problems stemming from cost overruns at Comerica Park caused owner Mike Ilitch to trim payroll.

Pitching with a 5-1 lead, it was instead Hentgen who had the Tigers. Designated hitter Robert Fick reached him for a bases-empty home run in the sixth, but the Orioles countered with three runs on four hits, a walk and two sacrifice fly balls. The 8-2 lead was the Orioles' largest of the season.

Already guaranteed their eighth consecutive losing April, the Tigers put up token resistance in the seventh, threatening Hentgen's quality start but little more. Damion Easley's two-out triple finished the scoring one batter before Hentgen finished his night's work.

Two innings later, he clutched a verdict made only more satisfying by a three-week wait and a non-existent offer.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Comerica Park, Detroit

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Willis Roberts (2-0, 1.23) vs. Tigers' Steve Sparks (1-1, 2.25)

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