O's dam bursts in 12-run 6th

Inning's output in 15-6 win over Rays exceeds total in 6-game losing streak

Groin strain sidelines Hairston

11-hit inning breaks O's marks for runs, hits

Rays led 6-1 vs. Ponson

April 12, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Maybe it was too early to panic.

Just when it appeared the Orioles had found the appropriate time, eight games into the season being a reasonable length with victories so scarce, they popped open the lid on their offense and breathed deeply. They also remembered the natural order of their division.

They may find adversity at just about every turn, but they also can depend on locating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays beneath them.

The standings don't reflect it now, but the Orioles treated the Devil Rays like the last-place team they've been since coming into existence, setting team records for most runs and hits in an inning while rallying for a 15-6 victory at Camden Yards.

A crowd of 24,179, which had booed starter Sidney Ponson in the third inning, switched to cheers as 12 runs crossed in the sixth against Tampa Bay relievers Travis Phelps, Jesus Colome and Steven Kent. They had scored 10 runs on six occasions, most recently Sept. 29, 2000.

The Orioles pounded out 11 hits in the inning, breaking the record of nine accomplished twice, most recently on Aug. 28, 1980. They sent 16 batters to the plate, with Geronimo Gil and Mike Bordick hitting back-to- back homers to begin the inning. Bordick added a two-run single, and David Segui and Jeff Conine singled twice.

Who saw this coming? The Orioles had scored six runs in their past six games, and 16 for the season. That qualifies for being due.

"It's either the outhouse or the castle here lately." said manager Mike Hargrove.

Still vulnerable to any misfortune, they lost leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston to a groin injury in the sixth inning and won't learn more about his availability until today. Hairston, who al ready had been checked by trainer Richie Bancells after beating out an infield hit, slid hard into first base while re treating on a fly ball from Melvin Mora that was caught at the top of the center-field fence. He needed help getting back on his feet and limped to the dugout, with Mora replacing him at sec ond base.

"I don't know if it's day-to-day or a three- to five-day thing or a DL thing." Hargrove said. Hairston predicted that he"'d re turn this weekend.

The Devil Rays weren't doing any better. They built a 6-1 lead against Ponson through four innings, with Ben Grieve crushing a two-run homer in the second, their first home run in 149 at-bats since April 4. They scored three times in the third and once in the fourth, leaving Ponson with a 9.00 ERA in two starts but sparing him another loss with their meltdown.

Tampa Bay never had given up 12 runs or 11 hits in an inning. Judging by its pitching staff, those dubious records should hold up at least through the weekend.

"Gil got it started and it was just contagious from there." said Jay Gibbons. "It was awesome. I've never been a part of some thing like that. I can't explain it. Our hitting was nonexistent and then it exploded."

The victory concluded a 2-6 season-opening homestand for the Orioles, who headed to Chicago last night to begin a three- city road trip that includes stops at Yankee Stadium and Tropicana Field in Tampa. They gladly took along Rodrigo Lopez, who followed four shutout innings in his last appearance by retiring all 12 batters he faced.

Lopez gained his first major- league victory when the Orioles tore into the Devil Rays' bullpen. The decisive inning included a two-run double by Jay Gibbons, who had struck out to end the fifth with runners on the corners after running the count to 3-0. Tony Batista added a run-scoring double, and Tampa Bay committed two errors.

Almost forgotten was another rough start for Ponson, who gave up six runs in four innings to match the shortest outing by a Orioles starter this season. The club hadn't allowed more than four in any game this season.

Pitching coach Mark Wiley visited the mound in the third after Ponson walked Randy Winn. After getting ahead in the count, Ponson surrendered a run-scoring single to Steve Cox that increased the lead to 3-1, and a two-run double to Toby Hall on a slider.

"In the first inning he looked sharp." Hargrove said. "Then he couldn't command anything."

With the team batting average at .171 before last night's game, Hargrove did some tinkering with the lineup rather than give it a complete overhaul. He started Gary Matthews Jr. in center field over Chris Singleton, eliminating a left-handed bat against Kennedy. And Segui started at first base, with Conine serving as designated hitter.

The move was embraced by Segui, who went 4-for-5 with a walk and three RBIs. Conine struck out twice before lifting a sacrifice fly in the fifth and singling twice in the sixth.

Segui, who was batting .143, gave the Orioles an early lead when he followed a single by Hairston and walk to Mora with a single into center field. With runners on the corners and none out, the next three batters failed to leave the infield, and a potentially big inning shrank to modest proportions.

Gil added a two-out, run-scoring single in the fourth after Batista led off with a double. The first two batters reached in the fifth, and a two-out walk to Matthews again put runners on the corners. Gibbons struck out, and the Devil Rays carried a 6-3 lead into the sixth.

They never expected to have it ripped so forcefully from their hands.

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