Orioles' late show remains a hit with 3-2 win

Batista RBI beats Rays in 11th for 3rd straight late-inning triumph

Team is 9-2 in extra innings

Stephens goes solid 6 as O's near .500 mark, capture season series

August 23, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Tony Batista singled home Jerry Hairston with one out in the 11th inning last night, giving the Orioles a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 21,447 at Camden Yards.

With their third straight late-inning victory, the Orioles won a hard-fought season series with the Devil Rays, 10-9. The Orioles also took a slight edge in their all-time series with the Devil Rays, 38-37.

"That team, for us, has been tough." Batista said. "They've been hitting pretty good and they've been pitching pretty good. The series was difficult."

Orioles closer Jorge Julio (5-5) pitched two innings for the victory. Devil Rays reliever Travis Harper (5-7) took the loss.

With one out in the 11th, Hairston got his third hit, an in field single off Harper. Hairston then moved to second on a single by Gary Matthews before Batista grounded a single between shortstop and third.

Hairston easily beat the throw, and the Orioles improved to 9-2 in extra-inning games. It was another impressive night for Hairston, who improved his average to .271.

"In the big leagues, it's no joke." he said. "You've got to keep improving every night. That's what I've been trying to do."

The victory improved the Orioles to 62-63, placing them one game below .500 for the first time since July 20.

Before the Orioles broke through, the smallest crowd in Camden Yards history almost saw a no-hitter.

Twice.

Orioles rookie John Stephens and Devil Rays rookie Jorge Sosa combined to record 28 outs before anyone had a hit. And even when the hits started coming, they were scarce.

The anticipation of the dueling no-hitters didn't exactly create a buzz at the ballpark, even though the drama built for more than half of a regulation nine-inning game.

This was a makeup game replacing the teams' April 9 rain out at Camden Yards, and the crowd was smaller than the 21,748 that showed up for a makeup game against the Texas Rangers on June 20, 1996.

Camden's smallest crowd for a non-makeup game was 24,558 on April 16, 2001, against Tampa Bay.

Both pitchers' no-hit bids ended with a home run. Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine hit a one-out shot in the fifth inning, driving a fastball from Sosa over the center-field wall for his 12th homer of the season.

Stephens has one minor-league no-hitter on his resume. He tossed seven hitless innings in the second game of a double-header for Double-A Bowie on July 31, 2001.

But the Devil Rays were hardly intimidated. When Stephens made his major-league debut three weeks ago at Tropicana Field, they pounded him for nine runs in three innings. This time, Stephens baffled the Devil Rays with some of the slowest pitches most of them had probably seen in years.

Stephens' curveball averages about 61 mph, but he threw one at 59 mph last night, and another at 58 mph. After seeing enough of those, the hitters have a hard time catching up to Stephens' 85-mph fastball.

It played out again and again. In the second inning, Stephens struck out the side, getting Jared Sandberg to whiff at a 63-mph curve, Steve Cox to wave at a 70-mph changeup and Ben Grieve to miss a 73-mph changeup.

Stephens continued to roll, but his pitch count was creeping up. He threw 73 in the first five innings, and Chris Gomez led off the sixth inning with a home run - Tampa Bay's first hit.

It was Gomez's third home run of the series and his 10th of the season. With a full count, Stephens left a 69-mph changeup over the plate, and Gomez hit it 340 feet down the line, just over the left-field wall.

The Orioles came right back and took the lead the next inning, when Hairston hit his fourth home run of the season. It marked the first time in 13 games the Orioles have had the lead after the sixth inning.

But Tampa Bay tied it again in the seventh, when Sandberg drew a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on Cox's single.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove pulled Stephens at that point, and the crowd gave the young Australian a warm ovation. Stephens allowed two runs on three hits in six-plus innings. He had five strikeouts and walked two, throwing 111 pitches.

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