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 - Having done more tinkering than rebuilding during the winter months and six weeks of spring training, the Orioles figure to eventually see the benefits of their work this season, even if there wasn't much heavy lifting. The starters they brought in will win. The position players will begin to hit. The criticism from a disgruntled fan base will subside.

Rick Helling kept last night's game close, which was enough to satisfy the Orioles, who rallied against the Cleveland Indians" bullpen and changed the tone of an entire series.

Melvin Mora led off the ninth with a home run off closer Danys Baez, and the Orioles took a 4-3 victory over the Indians at Jacobs Field.

Making his third start, Helling was spared a loss after allowing all three runs over seven innings. David Segui's run-scoring single in the eighth off Billy Traber reduced the Indians" lead to 3-2 , and Baez walked Tony Batista with the bases loaded and two outs. In the ninth, Mora then drove a 2-1 pitch into the left-field seats.

A crowd of 15,674 turned the ballpark into an outdoor version of Tropicana Field, minus the warm climate. Mike Hargrove managed here when the Indians strung together sellouts like beads on a necklace. He still can't get used to seeing all the empty seats.

At least the Indians didn't need to worry about fans rushing the field and repeating Tuesday's incident in Chicago. With such a small gathering, everyone in the stands was assigned their own usher.

"I've never seen this place like this." Hargrove said. "It's a little sad, but they"ll be back."

They"ll be a lot warmer than last night, when the game-time temperature was 50 degrees. Born in North Dakota, Helling doesn't mind the chill. He wore short sleeves, his arms exposed to the cold.

Helling was more uncomfort able with his last 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 kept the game close until the Orioles wiped out their deficit.

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, hit a home run to right to give Cleveland a 3-1 lead .

At that moment, the Orioles still were waiting for some early returns on their modest offseason investments.

Left-hander Omar Daal, signed as a free agent to become the No.2 starter, is 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA. Reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, the primary right-handed set-up man, has a 5.40 ERA in 6 2/3 innings. Shortstop Deivi Cruz, another free-agent addition, was batting .213 before Hargrove chose to rest him last night. B.J. Surhoff is batting.190 with no home runs after going 0-for-4 last night.

Shortstop Jose Morban has received only one at-bat as the Orioles continued to stash the former Rule 5 draft pick and essentially play with a 24-man roster. Except for the times he has been inserted as a pinch-runner, Morban won't be used much before returning to the minors next season. While a player watches, a manager is hamstrung.

Much more responsibility falls upon Helling, who signed a minor league contract in February and beat out Pat Hentgen for a spot in the rotation.

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, with the ball barely eluding Surhoff's glove as he crashed into the padding.

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.

Westbrook, making his 14th career major league start, went through similar struggles, but he kept the early damage to a minimum.

The Orioles loaded the bases with none out in the second but settled for only one run on Mora's groundout. It was unearned after Vizquel bobbled Batista's grounder for an error.

Westbrook allowed only two hits before leaving with two outs in the sixth.

The Orioles collected three hits in the eighth, and Batista walked after Gary Matthews slipped while tagging at third base and had to hold as Spencer caught Gibbons" liner to left.

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