Hentgen gets hand, 8-3 triumph

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

Winner gets due in Detroit

Hentgen wins due with a little help in his return home

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.

The Orioles' Opening Day starting pitcher had done everything within his power to win his first four starts, only to be handed an 0-2 record through bad luck and poor offensive support. The Orioles had scored eight runs in his starts, only three with him 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 crowd of 14,101.

Hentgen allowed seven hits in seven innings and left his ERA at 2.82. He has struck out 23 against seven walks in 38 1/3 innings, ratios that validate his consistent start.

After they sleepwalked through their first 16 games, the Orioles have scored 29 runs in their last four games, and for the first time this season have built their average to .228. In their last four games, they have hit .309.

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," Hentgen said about the Tigers' lack of interest in him. "It's very hard to feel something about that. It's in the past."

"Being from here, it's natural you'd be interested," said Hentgen. "But that never became relevant."

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 and three-run seventh inning as every spot in the batting order contributed either 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.

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.

Making his third consecutive start, rookie designated hitter Jay Gibbons gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with a two-out infield hit in the first inning. Brady Anderson scored after doubling to begin the game followed by two walks.

Hentgen uncharacteristically hurt himself for the only time 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.

From there, the Orioles broke out the bash, ensuring the Tigers would lose for the sixth straight game and the 11th time in their last 13.

A bizarre fourth inning gave Hentgen all the runs he would need because the Tigers infield was unable to throw, catch or decide what to do with the ball.

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 Mike 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 Brook 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.

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 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 inning, 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.

Pressed about Detroit's show of interest in him, Hentgen said: "I love being an Oriole. I love being an Oriole."

"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."

"His control all year has been amazing," said 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."

Already guaranteed their eighth consecutive losing April, the 5-13 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.

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