ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Though his lineup already had been posted, the names written in black marker to give the illusion of being permanent, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove sat in the dugout before last night's game and contemplated changes. His first baseman might be inactive because of a sore knee, which would cause some shuffling of players. Batting practice swings would dictate whether any moves were necessary.
David Segui didn't need to be scratched, but Hargrove still did some tinkering because of injury. Mike Kinkade vacated left field in the sixth inning after hurting his shoulder, causing Hargrove to shift Jeff Conine from right and insert Chris Richard.
Segui responded with doubles in his first two at-bats, scoring twice on hits by Conine, and Richard broke an eighth-inning tie on the first pitch he saw and later added an insurance run in the Orioles' 7-4 victory over Tampa Bay in Cal Ripken's final appearance at Tropicana Field.
For the second straight night, the Orioles failed to hold a lead in the late innings. They were ahead 3-1 in the seventh until a triple by Randy Winn scored two runs. But Tony Batista led off the eighth with a triple to right-center field, the umpires awarding him third base after a fan grabbed the ball off the top of the fence. Batting in Kinkade's spot, Richard lined a double on the next pitch from reliever Victor Zambrano (5-2), and came home on Melvin Mora's single.
Kinkade made an awkward dive into third base while advancing on a second-inning single by Larry Bigbie. He was 2-for-3 before leaving the game, and his status for this weekend is uncertain.
"I wish I could take credit for that brainstorm but it was a move dictated by injury," Hargrove said. "Chris really responded. The thing I like is when Chris came into the game, he was ready to play. You don't always find that with people who are sitting on the bench."
Making his 13th consecutive start, Ripken couldn't provide another farewell home run, as he's done in five other cities since announcing his retirement. But he produced a run-scoring single in the fifth and made a diving catch of Toby Hall's line drive in the bottom half of the inning. When umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called Ripken out on strikes in the ninth, he was showered with jeers.
The win allowed the Orioles to avoid being swept before returning to Baltimore for a nine-game homestand. Conine went 4-for-5 with a ninth-inning home run, giving him 17 RBIs in his last nine games. Jorge Julio became the sixth Orioles rookie to post his first major-league victory, breaking the club record set in 1989. And Willis Roberts got the final out for his fifth save, a nice recovery from his role in Wednesday's bullpen meltdown.
Julio replaced Josh Towers, whose second walk to open the seventh began the Devil Rays' rally. Towers hadn't walked a batter in his last 22 2/3 innings before Ben Grieve reached in the second.
"I'll look back on this tomorrow or the next day and be satisfied, but right now I'm thinking there's no way I should come out of this without the win," Towers said.
The Devil Rays committed three errors and had a passed ball. Perhaps they get nervous in front of large crowds.
They average 15,983 fans a game, worst in the American League and second only to Montreal. But 29,018 turned out last night, with people lining up for Ripken's autograph long before the Orioles' batting practice.
Josh Hamilton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft who's been hurt most of the season, was seventh in line behind the Orioles' dugout. An Arizona Diamondbacks scout also stood in the aisle. Outside the clubhouse, injured pitcher Wilson Alvarez waited more than an hour for Ripken's signature.
The pre-game ceremony included a video tribute played to Tim McGraw's "My Next 30 Years." ESPN motor-mouth college basketball analyst Dick Vitale gave him a sampling of the year's supply of stone crabs he'll be receiving, and Ripken later threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae, who played in Ripken's first major-league game on Aug. 10, 1981.
Noting how his professional career began in instructional leagues in St. Petersburg, Ripken said, "All those funky batting stances you've seen from me through the years, it all started here."
Towers' problems last night didn't start until the fifth. The Rays were held to one hit before Winn singled with two outs and scored on Jared Sandberg's double.
When the Devil Rays picked up two runs in the seventh, memories stirred of Wednesday's shocking defeat. Tampa Bay rallied from 7-1 and 10-5 deficits by scoring nine runs in the last three innings.
"It eats at you," Hargrove said, "but it doesn't tear you up because you realize there wasn't a whole lot more that could have been done. We had one pitcher left in the bullpen. It bothers you a lot, but it doesn't consume you."
Especially when a win follows.
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Chris Carpenter (7-11, 4.59) vs. Orioles' Jason Johnson (10-8, 3.34)