Streaking O's hold off Texas, 7-6

Mercedes wins first as 6-run lead shrinks but doesn't vanish

4th in row puts O's at 23-24

Trombley gets save

Conine goes 3-for-3

May 26, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles hinted at a runaway last night, almost turned it into a giveaway then settled for a 7-6 getaway against the Texas Rangers. Played out before an announced crowd of 33,117 at Camden Yards, what first appeared as Jose Mercedes' cruise toward his first win of the season became another opportunity to watch a reordered bullpen in action.

An early breakout built around third baseman Jeff Conine's three hits, Brady Anderson's first home run of May and a pounding of Rangers starting pitcher Pat Mahomes (3-3) allowed the Orioles to improve to 7-2 on their current homestand, 8-2 in their past 10 games and to within a game of .500 for the first time since May 1. Combined with a loss by the New York Yankees, the Orioles find themselves within 3 1/2 games of the division lead.

"You've got to look past .500 and keep playing well every day to give ourselves a chance to win," manager Mike Hargrove said after his club's fourth straight victory.

The 23-24 Orioles can take nothing for granted. If there was any doubt, they reinforced the point by nearly squandering an early 6-0 lead behind Mercedes and uncharacteristically loose defense. Mercedes (1-6) surrendered three earned runs and the infield defense allowed another two before the Rangers finally pushed the tying run to third base with two outs in the eighth inning.

The Orioles avoided their most calamitous loss of the season when closer du jour Mike Trombley got first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to pop his first pitch to left field, leaving the bases loaded.

"It's a tough position for him," said Palmeiro, who endured a 1-for-5 game against his ex-team. "I don't think he wants to be bases loaded with the tying run at third. I didn't get the best pitch to hit and do what I thought I could do."

"With a team like the Rangers, you can't afford to keep giving them extra time," Hargrove said. "You give guys who can just bomb the ball extra at-bats and extra pitches and you're really skating on thin ice. We skated on that ice from the fifth inning on."

A pace in which the Orioles have averaged nearly seven runs over their past 13 games continued. Playing for a quick lead in a game threatened early on by rain, the Orioles loaded the bases with none out in the second inning on Melvin Mora's bunt single. They satisfied themselves with a 1-0 lead derived from Delino DeShields' double-play grounder.

Absent a double play, the Orioles ripped Mahomes for four runs in the third inning as third base coach Tom Trebelhorn waved runner after runner to test Rangers left fielder Rusty Greer.

Chris Richard scored Anderson with a one-out single, Conine delivered Mike Bordick with a single and DeShields pushed across two runs with a one-out double.

Several other trends continued last night against the struggling Rangers: Conine extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single, double and triple, leaving him with as many RBIs as games played (27); the Orioles continue to be unbeatable (17-0) when leading after seven innings; and Hargrove appears comfortable with only half of his six-man bullpen in tight situations.

Under different circumstances, Conine's month would establish him as a leading trade possibility for a contender. Except now the Orioles may consider themselves among that bunch."[Thursday] night I had three pitches where I wanted them and missed," Conine said. "It says how well things are going that tonight I get pitches in pretty much the same spot and I do something with them all."

Mercedes had labored under the weight of nine straight winless starts and a 6.28 ERA. Superstitious enough to believe that his standing as No. 3 starter in spring training represented bad mojo, Mercedes had begun obsessing over poor run support and defensive lapses that seemingly followed his every outing. (Oddly, last night brought his first unearned run after 43 earned.) Mercedes' first-time status as a pending free agent also intensified his slow burn.

"He certainly has pitched better than 0-6 would indicate," Hargrove said. "At a certain point it becomes a hurdle you have to get over. I thought it was very curious the one inning Jose struggled in tonight was the fifth. Obviously that's a gateway to a win. He pitched well enough to win."

The Rangers rallied for two runs in the fifth on Ken Caminiti's leadoff home run and Alex Rodriguez's two-out double to score catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Gabe Kapler repeated Caminiti's home run to lead off the sixth and Hargrove activated his bullpen. With two outs and a runner on third, Mercedes suffered an unearned run when shortstop Bordick's throw to first short-hopped David Segui for an error to make it a 7-4 game.

What was once a six-run lead whittled to two with reliever Chad Paronto on in the seventh -- again because of an error.

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