Mercedes' losing run ends, 12-7

Batista's slam in 9th seals Boston's doom to lift starter to 8-17

His first win since Aug. 15

Hairston's defense bails out leaky 'pen

O's surging at 5-1

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

BOSTON - Circumstances conspired against Jose Mercedes for much of this season, according to Jose Mercedes. If it wasn't the oversight of naming him the Orioles' No. 3 starter in spring training (bad mojo), it was his offense's inability to give him runs (bad luck) or even his inability to escape horrid innings (bad pitching).

Last night, after receiving 17 days off for protection of his record, Mercedes became the beneficiary of happenstance in a 12-7 Orioles victory

Only because rookie right-hander Josh Towers decided to backhand his right ring finger against the dugout phone in Toronto five days before did Mercedes receive his 29th start of the season. Only because second baseman Jerry Hairston rescued a late-inning lead from collapse did his decision survive a five-run rally.

"It was good for him to get a win," said manager Mike Hargrove, who watched his suddenly potent lineup mash 14 hits, nine in the first four innings. "He's got 17 losses and he's pitched well enough to have won more than seven games. We just haven't scored enough runs when he's pitched, and when we've scored, he's given them up."

Supported by eight runs provided partly by big swings from designated hitter Chris Richard and center fielder Luis Matos, Mercedes (8-17) lasted long enough to take an 8-2 lead then sweated out a nervous four-inning performance from his bullpen. The Orioles left Fenway Park with a victory that gave them their best six-game stretch (5-1) of the second half while officially eliminating the Red Sox from the American League East race.

Shortstop Tony Batista extended a September rush with his sixth consecutive multi-hit game, including a ninth-inning grand slam against left-handed reliever Allen McDill that left him 14-for-24 during the six-game tear. Batista has seven RBIs and three home runs in his past three games against the Red Sox. Last night lifted his average to .235 compared to the .219 average he carried a week ago.

"Everybody has a time during the season. This is my time," said Batista, who has hit .266 since being claimed on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays June 27. "I never give up. I'm feeling comfortable now. It's good."

While Richard's three-run homer and Brady Anderson's RBI single off starter Frank Castillo (8-9) provided a 4-0 lead, Batista's grand slam rescued a lead the Red Sox had threatened to overturn against three Orioles relievers.

The win improved the Orioles to 60-90 and gave them an 8-5 edge in their season series against the moribund Red Sox, who have lost 18 of their past 22.

Mercedes' previous start left him with the most losses by an Oriole since Mike Boddicker in 1985. Aware that he was only three starts shy of possibly becoming the first major-league pitcher to lose 20 games since Brian Kingman of the 1980 Oakland A's, the Orioles dropped him from the rotation after his three-inning, six-run start in Seattle Sept. 7 and inserted Sean Douglass into the rotation. Mercedes hadn't pitched since.

"If I can get to 10 wins, that sounds a lot better than eight wins," Mercedes said. "Hopefully, people will look at how you finish instead of how you started."

Having gone 40 days since his last win, Mercedes received his best run support since June 17 followed by one of the worst bullpen efforts of the season.

John Bale and John Wasdin slogged through the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Bale walked two hitters, hit another and allowed an RBI double before being lifted for Wasdin with none out in the seventh. Serenaded by chants of "Way Back," his nickname while with the Red Sox, Wasdin allowed two seventh-inning runs before surrendering a two-run homer to Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand that created a one-run game in the eighth.

The Red Sox got to within 90 feet of a tie game in the eighth when B.J. Ryan found himself in a two-out matchup against cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez.

Ryan induced a ground ball toward second base on a full count. On most days the grounder would be a hit, but Hairston ranged far to his right, gloved the ball, threw across himself and watched from shallow left field as the ball barely beat Ramirez for the third out.

Hairston's play not only preserved Mercedes' sanity, it minimized questions about the availability of the right-handed portion of the Orioles' bullpen as well as Ryan's decision to attack Ramirez with a left-handed bat on deck.

Kris Foster hasn't appeared since Sept. 4 and pending free agent Alan Mills remains in shutdown mode.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rick Bauer (0-2, 3.38) vs. Red Sox's Casey Fossum (2-1, 3.48)

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