Matthews swings another series in O's favor as White Sox fall, 5-4

2-run homer powers win as he, Cruz shed slumps

April 25, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley led a torturous existence for the season's first 20 games, as he stood there watching Deivi Cruz and Gary Matthews hit several line drives right into their opponents' gloves.

Both hitters were struggling with their averages heading into last night's series finale against the Chicago White Sox. Much of their work with Crowley had been in vain.

With injuries ravaging their lineup, and ace pitcher Rodrigo Lopez staring at his fourth loss, the Orioles needed a breakthrough. In the seventh inning, they finally got it.

Cruz blistered a bases-empty home run, and Matthews smashed a two-out, two-run homer off White Sox reliever Tom Gordon, lifting the Orioles to a 5-4 victory before 23,731 at Camden Yards.

"My gosh, that was a good game," said Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who is 4-1 as interim manager since Mike Hargrove took leave to be with his ailing mother in Texas. "They didn't quit. There was a little bit of life on the bench. It seems like all the parts of our game are starting to come together."

The Orioles have won nine of their past 13 games, and this is the first time they have won three consecutive series since April 2002. After taking two of three from Cleveland to end their last road trip, they went 5-2 on this homestand, taking three of four from Tampa Bay and two of three from the White Sox.

At 11-10, they'll begin a six-game road trip tonight at Tampa Bay with their record above .500 for the first time since Opening Day.

And the Orioles can hope Cruz and Matthews just had the game that turns around their early-season struggles.

"Gary just hasn't gotten on a streak where his hits are falling in, but they will," Crowley said. "Tonight was a good jump-start for him. And Deivi is another guy who's been hitting a lot of line drives. I was happy for both of those guys."

After putting Marty Cordova (right elbow surgery) and David Segui (strained right hamstring) on the disabled the past two days, the Orioles are going to need contributions from other places.

Leadoff man Jerry Hairston missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle, and Melvin Mora filled in with another huge performance. Mora led off the first inning with a homer, marking the fifth time he's done that. He also doubled with one out in the seventh, enabling him to score the tying run on Matthews' home run.

When Hairston went down with the injury, Mora was batting .188. Over the past two nights, he's gone 4-for-5 with three walks, lifting his average to .270.

Cruz was batting .164 when he came to the plate in the seventh against White Sox reliever Rick White. The Orioles were down 4-2, with Lopez in line for the loss after giving up four runs in six innings. A year ago, Lopez didn't lose his fourth game until Aug. 5.

At that point, Cruz was hitless in his previous 13 at-bats and riding a 3-for-32 slump.

"He was due," Perlozzo said. "I sat there actually the whole game saying, `I think Deivi's going to get one.' "

With a 1-1 count, Cruz did, lining the ball 380 feet into the left-center seats.

One out later, Mora doubled into the left-field corner, and White Sox manager Jerry Manuel went to his bullpen again, summoning Gordon. After striking out Jose Leon for the second out, Gordon left a 95-mph fastball letter-high for Matthews, who drilled the pitch 404 feet into the right-center-field seats.

Matthews, who was a major catalyst for the Orioles' offense last season, entered the game batting just .212. In the first inning, he tripled and scored, and he saved his first homer of the season for the seventh.

"We really counted on Gary from the start," Perlozzo said. "It's not that he needs to step up. We need Gary to play well like he did last year. Not everybody can be hot at the same time. He wasn't early on, and David [Segui] was, and Gary's starting to swing the bat, and a couple other guys are starting to swing the bat. That's the way seasons go."

After going 2-for-4, Matthews is batting .225 with one homer and 12 RBIs.

A year ago, he hit .276.

"I attribute it to hitting balls right at people," Matthews said. "It's not like I was striking out every other at-bat. But it is frustrating sometimes. So many guys talk about leaving it at the park, but it's frustrating."

Last night, it wasn't so frustrating. Matthews put the Orioles in front, and Willis Roberts (2-1) earned the victory with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Jorge Julio retired the side in the ninth for his sixth save, punctuating the win with a fist pump after he struck out pinch hitter Brian Daubach to end the game.

"I'm really proud of these guys," Perlozzo said.

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