O's get 6-5 win in 14th inning

Fordyce's suicide squeeze sends Batista home with winning run to beat Rays

Orioles defeat Devil Rays, 6-5, in 14 innings on suicide squeeze

April 20, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Devil Rays sprinted from their dugout before the start of last night's game against the Orioles, creating a noticeable buzz in the stands. Or maybe it was the air conditioning.

Enthusiasm was at a serious low for the opener of this series, failing to match the drama that unfolded. Only 11,124 showed up at Tropicana Field, and most of them bolted for the exits long before the Orioles took a 6-5 victory in 14 innings on a suicide squeeze that proved as gutsy as their refusal to lose.

They missed the Orioles' Chris Singleton slithering out from under an enormous slump to almost turn hero in the 13th inning, and the Devil Rays' Bobby Smith homering on the first pitch from Jorge Julio in the bottom half to bring another tie.

They missed Jeff Conine taking a few steps toward Tampa Bay reliever Esteban Yan in the same inning after a pitch sailed behind him, and Jerry Hairston hitting the deck in the 14th on a pitch near his head.

They missed Ben Grieve's drive to the fence with a runner aboard that would have won the game, and the most intriguing moment - a bunt from catcher Brook Fordyce, who didn't even start the game, that scored Tony Batista.

Batista and Marty Cordova singled off Jesus Colome, and Mike Bordick laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. Batista then broke for home as Fordyce pushed another bunt toward the right side, scoring easily while second baseman Brent Abernathy fielded the ball with no play at home.

Having made the decision to bunt on a 1-1 count, Hargrove sat on the bench with sweaty palms.

"You get all the normal reactions of panic," he said, laughing. "They don't call it suicide squeeze for nothing. If we don't execute it, then we're in trouble. It's not easy bunting on a guy who throws 98 mph like Colome does."

When given the sign, Fordyce said he had no reaction.

"Just get the bunt down and give your team a chance to score," he said. "You'd rather bunt off a slow guy, but this guy was throwing 98 mph. When you squeeze, you're supposed to show it late, but I showed it early because there was no way I was going to get around."

In the 13th inning, Singleton had lifted a sacrifice fly to center for a 5-4 lead after Hairston doubled and moved to third on Yan's disputed balk. Singleton got hold of a 1-2 pitch, news in itself considering that his average had dipped to .091 after going hitless in his first five at-bats.

Returning to the lineup after sitting out the past two games, Singleton bounced into a double play in the third inning to stunt one rally, stranded the tying runs in the eighth by striking out on three pitches, and left the go-ahead run on base in the 10th by grounding out.

Jay Gibbons had tied the game in the seventh with a home run, and Conine did likewise an inning later with a two-out, two-run double. Rodrigo Lopez gave the Orioles four shutout innings after replacing B.J. Ryan with none out in the seventh, permitting only one hit and striking out five. All positive contributions that didn't go to waste.

Gibbons' homer gave him six this season, moving him into a four-way tie for the American League lead. Five of those homers have come on the first pitch, when he's 11-for-22 this season.

Tampa Bay had scored twice off Ryan in the seventh to take a 4-2 lead, getting three straight hits to begin the inning and taking advantage of a throwing error by catcher Geronimo Gil. Abernathy singled and Gil threw high to Hairston covering first after fielding a Jason Tyner bunt. The ball glanced off Hairston's glove and rolled into the bullpen area in right field, allowing Abernathy to score and Tyner to take third.

Randy Winn tripled into center field for his fourth hit before Conine yanked his double to left off Tanyon Sturtze. Both of the Orioles' runs were unearned after Abernathy dropped a throw from catcher Toby Hall as Melvin Mora attempted to steal second and Hairston, who had doubled, took third. Another stroke of luck came when first base umpire Andy Fletcher ruled that Smith didn't make a sliding catch of Conine's foul pop in front of the home dugout, which brought an argument from Smith and manager Hal McRae.

Orioles starter Calvin Maduro gave up singles in five of his six innings, walked three batters and hit another but maintained a shutout until Chris Gomez grounded a two-run single into left. The Devil Rays were denied in the fifth when Mora made a diving catch in left-center with two outs and Smith breaking from first.

Hargrove shook up his lineup out of necessity, elevating Conine to third in the order and using Gibbons as his cleanup hitter. Gibbons could remain there until David Segui returns from a knee injury.

"This ballclub tonight really exhibited a mental toughness," Hargrove said. "The guys didn't let down after we gave up the lead in the umpteenth inning. We stayed tough."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time:6:15

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (0-3, 6.28) vs. Devil Rays' Paul Wilson (1-0, 1.20)

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