Mora's homer in 9th gives O's 4-3 win

Trailing 3-1 in 8th, team rallies, overtakes Indians

April 17, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - Leading off the ninth inning of a tie game last night, Melvin Mora wanted to show restraint. Forget about swinging for the fences, a tendency that brought criticism within the organization last season as his average tumbled. Just get on base, he thought, as pitcher Danys Baez gripped the ball and stared in for the sign. Set the table for someone else.

On the fourth pitch, Mora homered.

"That was an accident," he said.

It was a timely one. Without really trying, Mora had completed the Orioles' late rally, which produced a 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field and changed an entire series.

Making his first start at shortstop after four in the outfield, Mora drilled a fastball into the seats in left to disappoint a chilled crowd of 15,674.

The Indians were leading 3-1 in the eighth before David Segui's run-scoring single off Billy Traber and Tony Batista's bases-loaded walk off Baez with two outs. Momentum swung almost as hard as Mora, who made it possible for the Orioles to win their first series since September if they prevail tonight.

"Melvin is a very special player," said manager Mike Hargrove. "He's kind of cursed and blessed in the same breath. He's blessed that he's such a good athlete, he can play a number of positions well. But that being his strength, he's very valuable as a utility player and he doesn't get the at-bats that a regular would. But Melvin keeps himself ready, and he's gotten a lot of big hits for us the last couple of years."

Rick Helling allowed three runs over seven innings and was spared the loss when the Orioles jumped the Indians' bullpen. Starter Jake Westbrook held them to one unearned run, which scored on Mora's grounder after they loaded the bases with none out in the second, in 5 2/3 innings, but Traber and Baez weren't as effective. The Orioles collected four of their six hits, and walked twice, after the seventh.

Jorge Julio struck out the only batter he faced, pinch-hitter Bill Selby, to record his second save and preserve the win for left-hander Buddy Groom.

"There were times tonight when we could have put our heads down and given up, but we didn't," Helling said. "That's a sign of a team that's mentally tough and doesn't let past problems bother it. That's a good sign."

A game-time temperature of 50 degrees chilled a sparse crowd. Born in North Dakota, Helling doesn't mind the cold. He wore short sleeves, his arms exposed to the elements.

Helling was more uncomfortable with his previous start, when he allowed six earned runs in five innings against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on April 9.

Working on extra rest last night, he threw 117 pitches and retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced.

"I led the league in pitches thrown three straight years in Texas," he said. "I'm used to it. I couldn't care less how many I throw."

Said Hargrove: "As he went along, he got better. We were thinking about taking him out after six, and realized his pitch count wasn't that high. I remember going into Texas and scoring eight runs off him the first two innings. They left him in the game and he pitched through eight and got the win. This guy's a horse."

The Indians' first ground-ball out didn't come until the fifth inning when Milton Bradley bounced into a double play. The next batter, Omar Vizquel, homered to give Cleveland a 3-1 lead.

The Indians scored twice off Helling in the fourth inning, with errors in judgment stoking the rally.

Shane Spencer led off with a liner to right field that Jay Gibbons misplayed into a double. Turning his glove after realizing in mid-air that he couldn't make the catch, Gibbons did a belly-flop while the ball bounced off his face and rolled toward the line.

A wild pitch moved Spencer to third, and he scored after Jeff Conine fielded Matt Lawton's grounder and took three steps toward first base before deciding to throw home. Travis Hafner followed with a double off the left-field wall.

Quick innings weren't part of Helling's repertoire last night. Taking close pitches and fouling off others, the Indians went deep into the count and the game slowed to a crawl. Bat boys became old enough to get their driver's license. Dairy products expired in both clubhouses.

The Orioles seemed destined to lose when line drives with runners on base barely went foul. When Gary Matthews slipped while tagging at third in the eighth and couldn't score, it kept the Indians ahead 3-2 before Batista walked with the bases loaded for the third time this season.

"It's to our hitters' credit that they hung tough," Hargrove said.

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