Groom cleans mess in ninth in O's 2-1 win

Reliever works out of jam with bases loaded vs. Rays

Hargrove: `Nothing is ever easy'

Double play clinches win

Orioles get just five hits

August 22, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

If Rodrigo Lopez or Jorge Julio claims Rookie of the Year honors this season, the recipient might want to hang the wooden plaque next to a picture of Orioles veteran reliever Buddy Groom.

At times like last night, the Orioles don't know where they would be without Groom, who inherited a ninth-inning mess and quickly turned it into a masterpiece.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the bases loaded with one out in the ninth when Groom relieved Julio and enticed Steve Cox to ground into a game-ending double play, preserving a 2-1 victory before 27,591 at Camden Yards.

"I'm not one to worry about the limelight," said Groom, who earned his second save of the season and quietly lowered his ERA to 1.62. "I'm just here to pitch."

Groom preserved another win for Lopez (14-5), who held the Devil Rays to one run on five hits in eight innings. He also prevented Julio from getting his seventh blown save after Julio had walked two consecutive batters without throwing a strike to load the bases.

With a full count, Cox hit a ball right at second baseman Jerry Hairston, who started a 4-6-3 double play - the only routine element of an edge-of-your-seat inning.

"Nothing," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "is ever easy, I guess."

In a rare display of emotion, Groom pumped his fist, and the Orioles celebrated after evening their season series with the Devil Rays at nine wins apiece. The teams will play the season finale tonight, making up for their April 9 rainout.

Lopez needed just 91 pitches to get through eight innings, but Hargrove said he was concerned about Lopez's slider being flat. So Hargrove turned over the ninth to Julio, who has allowed one earned run in his past 32 appearances.

Hargrove soon bristled as another passed ball whistled by catcher Geronimo Gil, giving the Devil Rays life. With one out, Julio struck out Carl Crawford, but the low slider got by Gil for his American League leading 17th passed ball, allowing Crawford to reach first.

Two pitches later, another ball got past Gil for a wild pitch, allowing Crawford to reach second.

"You could just see Julio start to tense up," Hargrove said.

So Hargrove made sure Groom was ready, and he was after warming up in the eighth inning while Lopez was still in the game. Julio threw six more balls, walking Aubrey Huff and Jared Sandberg, which brought Cox to the plate, and Hargrove made his move.

Julio, who leads all major-league rookies with 25 saves, took one step behind the mound. When it was time to give up the ball, he could hardly bear to look at Hargrove.

But this time Groom took the spotlight and made sure it didn't linger on his rookie teammates. The Orioles gave the 37-year-old Groom a $5.75 million contract extension this past off-season, securing his services through the 2004 season, and he continues to reward them for that decision.

"I expect Julio to go out and do it like he normally does," Groom said. "Tonight he was a little off. It's my job to come in and bail him out. That's what I'm paid to do."

Lopez found himself embroiled in a pitchers' duel with Victor Zambrano (5-5), who held the Orioles to two runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings.

Jay Gibbons hit his 22nd home run, leading off the second, but the Devil Rays tied it in the fourth on Sandberg's double. It marked the 12th consecutive game the Orioles have been behind or tied after six innings, which has been problematic for a team that considers its bullpen as the biggest strength.

Zambrano faltered in the seventh, when the Orioles overcame having another runner thrown out at home plate and still scored the go-ahead run.

Mike Bordick singled with one out, and third base coach Tom Trebelhorn sent Chris Richard home, but the Devil Rays' Crawford nailed him at the plate. That was the fourth runner the Orioles have had thrown out at the plate in five games.

But in a prelude to what happened to Julio, Zambrano walked Melvin Mora on four pitches, loading the bases, and then walked Jerry Hairston on four pitches, scoring Gil with the tying run.

The Orioles had five hits.

"If you're not swinging the bats, then by hook or crook, you've got to get it done," Hargrove said. "Tonight, it was fairly fitting that the winning run came across on a walk."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

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

Starters: Devil Rays' Jorge Sosa (1-6, 5.79) vs. Orioles' John Stephens (1-2, 7.04)

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