Battery charges Orioles' 5-2 win

McElroy's arm, bat of Fordyce both rise to surprise Twins

3 RBIs end catcher's skid

Winning 9-game trip O's first since 1999

April 29, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Expectations are a volatile commodity for the Orioles, a team too inexperienced to offer consistent form. Last night suggested a strong offensive showing would be necessary to fend off the Minnesota Twins. Starting pitcher Chuck McElroy was appearing two days after a relief appearance in Detroit and nine days since his previous start.

But rather than engage in an offensive free-for-all, the Orioles took down the first-place Twins, 5-2, at the Metrodome because McElroy got 17 outs in 76 pitches and his catcher, Brook Fordyce, did more than call pitches by homering and doubling for the first three Orioles RBIs.

The surprises didn't stop coming until after the last pitch. Protecting a nervous lead, manager Mike Hargrove allowed Mike Trombley to pitch the eighth and ninth innings rather than warming rookie closer Ryan Kohlmeier for what was a save chance until Delino DeShields bumped a two-run lead with a two-out, two-run double in the ninth.

For McElroy (1-1), the game was a possible reprieve from a return to the bullpen.

For Fordyce, his first home run since last Sept. 28 and ninth-inning double brought relief from a season-long run of 53 at-bats without an RBI.

For the Orioles, it assured a winning road trip as they are 5-3 with the finale of a nine-game swing this afternoon. It is their first winning road trip of more than three games since September 1999.

"I think it's good for our confidence," Hargrove said. "This early in the season says a little bit about the talent we have. Again, we're not nearly as bad as a lot of people around the country would hope we are."

Hargrove warned against reading anything into Trombley appearing in a situation usually reserved for Kohlmeier. Against a fastball-hitting team, he thought it better to stay with Trombley's off-speed assortment.

"With the hitters they've got, Ryan doesn't match up well," said Hargrove, who discussed the move with pitching coach Mark Wiley. "That doesn't mean he won't pitch [today] in a save situation. But today, with the hitters they had, we thought it was best to send Trombley back out there."

Fordyce's two-run homer against Twins starter Mark Redman (1-3) with none out in the fifth inning overcame a 1-0 Twins lead. Four pitchers then tag-teamed to control the game.

McElroy's performance was the most compelling. His inconsistent work schedule and apparent return to relief added to a complex mix.

"Nine days off is nine days off," said McElroy. "You have to be mentally and physically into it. That was the most important thing. I was able to focus after yesterday's game. ... I looked at today's game as another chance."

McElroy's spot in the rotation has never been anything but precarious, hardly surprising for a 33-year-old who made a career in middle relief before receiving a two-start trial last September.

The Orioles projected him as a starting pitcher this spring only for the dual purpose of enhancing his potential trade value and deflecting pressure from the younger arms they hoped could unseat him.

Hargrove's expectations for last night were minimal. Asked before the game what he hoped for from McElroy, he said "survival."

What last night's win means for McElroy's future remains hazy. There is one remaining start before Sidney Ponson's anticipated return from the disabled list. Hargrove was asked whether he would project McElroy as having first call. "I can't right now," he said.

Added McElroy: "If they want me to go into the bullpen on my side day, that's fine. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't control that. They call the shots."

If there's one thing McElroy has proven throughout his well-traveled career, it is the ability to survive. Last night he lasted 5 2/3 innings without a strikeout and after being smoked on the thigh by a line drive to begin the fourth.

McElroy allowed only three hits to the 22 batters he faced while appearing to stumble only during a difficult third inning.

Twins catcher Tom Prince began the inning turning on a loose 3-1 breaking pitch for a home run into the left-field bleachers.

McElroy then walked No. 9 hitter Luis Rivas but a double-play grounder by triples machine Cristian Guzman erased the threat. The Twins put only one more runner into scoring position against McElroy, that on Prince's fifth-inning steal.

The shot by David Ortiz off McElroy's thigh stayed with him more than anything. Noticeably limping after getting the second out of the sixth inning, McElroy debated Hargrove and Fordyce during a mound visit that ended with Chad Paronto being summoned.

Redman endured a rougher ride than McElroy but lasted longer. The Orioles failed to take a two-run lead in the seventh because of Brady Anderson's decision not to slide.

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