Rookie's 1st start finishes O's, 2-1

McClung, 3 relievers take wind out of sailing O's in three-hit setback

April 26, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - By changing cities, the Orioles extinguished the momentum that gained speed while they were home. They never should have put a lid on it.

Exposed once more to the artificial surroundings beneath the Tropicana Field dome, the Orioles set out to prove that their resurgence was quite real. But rookie pitcher Seth McClung, making his first major league start, blanked them through six innings last night, and Tampa Bay's bullpen finished up a 2-1 victory before 9,044.

The loss left Sam Perlozzo 4-2 as interim manager, and kept the Orioles from moving two games above .500 for the first time since May 5, 2000. It might have been avoided if the Orioles scored more than once after loading the bases in the seventh with none out and chasing McClung.

Mike Hargrove is expected to rejoin the club tonight after missing the past six games while attending to his ailing mother in Texas. He took a flight to Baltimore yesterday and gathered some belongings before heading to Tampa.

"The things they were concerned about seemed to have gone in her favor. Things are looking much better and he feels very comfortable about coming back now," Perlozzo said.

"He sounded very tired, but he's anxious to get back. He misses everyone here."

Hargrove may orchestrate a group hug. Even with last night's outcome, the Orioles have won seven of their past 10 games and nine of 14.

"I had a good time," Perlozzo said. "I learned a lot. It's been a great experience. The guys responded. It was a real test for me, to see if I could do something like this."

Left-hander Omar Daal had Perlozzo squirming in the first inning after giving up two runs, but he lasted through the sixth for his second consecutive quality start. On most nights, that would have been good enough to win, but not with McClung pitching. Not when he's facing the Orioles.

All seven of McClung's appearances before last night came in relief. He hadn't pitched since Sunday at Camden Yards, when he blanked the Orioles on one hit over 4 2/3 innings.

McClung made 78 starts among his 82 appearances in the minors and kept his composure while slicing through the Orioles' lineup. He allowed only two hits going into the seventh, but departed after B.J. Surhoff singled and Jeff Conine walked.

Reliever Mike Venafro hit Jay Gibbons on the right wrist - the same one that's undergone three surgeries - to fill the bases. Travis Harper replaced him and threw a wild pitch that reduced Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1, but Conine got caught in a rundown on Tony Batista's grounder to short, and after an intentional walk loaded the bases again, Deivi Cruz bounced into a double play.

What could have been an productive inning barely produced a sound.

"We had Tony up and Deivi up, two guys who usually hit the ball in the air, and they hit it on the ground," Perlozzo said.

Two runners reached base against McClung over the first four innings.

Gibbons' ground ball deflected off second baseman Felix Escalona's glove before rolling into right field in the second, and Gary Matthews beat out an infield hit in the fourth.

McClung walked two batters in the fifth but still didn't give up a run.

Carl Crawford made a diving catch in left field to rob Batista, and Gibbons was doubled off first base on the relay. A one-out walk to Melvin Mora in the sixth proved meaningless.

"A guy who throws that hard, you get anxious to tune it up on that fastball," Perlozzo said. "I thought we could have taken him deeper in the count. He was up a lot and we could have gotten better pitches to hit. But we were a little impatient because he was throwing so darned hard."

Each missed opportunity by the Orioles echoed inside a near-empty building.

Turned loose from their dugout by the public-address announcer, the Devil Rays sprinted onto the field at 7:14 p.m. A fan erupted.

They drew only 8,618 for Thursday's game against Toronto, the second-smallest crowd in franchise history. It wasn't exactly Mardi Gras last night, but a few people stirred when the Devil Rays took a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

Rocco Baldelli's one-out single scored Terry Shumpret, who doubled on a two-strike pitch. It also extended Baldelli's club record for hits by a rookie in the same month to 34. Toby Hall's double scored the second run.

Daal has surrendered only three runs in his past 13 innings since Cleveland scored seven in 4 1/3 innings on April 15.

"I'm happy with the way I've been throwing the last two games," he said. "I feel like I'm on my way back."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time:6:15

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

Starters:Orioles' Rick Helling (1-1, 4.15) vs. Devil Rays' Steve Parris (0-2, 4.50)

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