O's use hit parade to march by Rays, into first-place tie

16 hits add up to 11-3 win

Mora gets HR, 3 singles

Bigbie also has home run

April 11, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The plan seemed flawed.

As good as the Orioles felt about their revamped lineup, as confident as they were in the offense's ability to overcome the pitching staff's flaws, the team just wasn't scoring enough runs.

Or at least not enough to match their expectations for the season's first five games.

That finally changed last night against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Erik Bedard struggled in his first major league start, but the Orioles got a brilliant relief performance from Rick Bauer, and the bats came alive for an 11-3 victory at Tropicana Field.

Melvin Mora had four hits, including the go-ahead, two-run homer in the fifth inning off Devil Rays starter Jeremi Gonzalez.

By the time the outburst ended, the Orioles (3-3) had compiled 16 hits, and several players had padded their statistics, as they moved into a three-way tie for first place with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay in the suddenly mediocre American League East.

"Today, we proved we've got a tremendous offense," said Orioles catcher Javy Lopez, who went 4-for-5 to raise his average to an astounding .609. "We were struggling a little at the beginning, but now everyone's getting on the same page."

Miguel Tejada, who is still looking for his first RBI as an Oriole, had three hits to raise his average to .346.

Larry Bigbie lifted his average from .158 to .208 with a two-run single in the sixth and a bases-empty home run in the eighth - his second homer of the season.

Bauer, who allowed one hit in five scoreless innings to earn the victory, thought back to past seasons when a performance like his often went unrewarded.

"Oh, it's so much better," Bauer said. "After a couple of years being on a team that doesn't score runs, it kind of wears on you. ... Now, when you do make mistakes, the hitters pick you up."

Bedard was the beneficiary this time. He claimed the Orioles' fifth starter spot with a dazzling spring, but most of what made him successful in the Grapefruit League was absent last night.

The Devil Rays forced him to throw 31 pitches in the first inning, including a 90-mph fastball down the middle that Eduardo Perez crushed for a two-run homer.

Bedard, whose parents were in the stands watching him pitch in a big league game for the first time in two years, attributed his struggles to nerves.

When he walked No. 9 hitter Rey Sanchez to start the fourth - his fourth free pass of the game - Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli had seen enough. With Bedard at 91 pitches and his team trailing 3-2, Mazzilli turned things over to Bauer, who was nearly sent to Triple-A Ottawa when Bedard was added to the roster yesterday.

The Orioles kept Bauer as their 12th pitcher, and designated outfielder Jack Cust for assignment, for this very reason. The rest of their bullpen was spent, and they needed someone in case Bedard couldn't pitch deep into the game.

"[Bauer] kept us in the game," Mazzilli said. "He showed me something tonight."

Bauer might have saved his job Wednesday, when he relieved Kurt Ainsworth and quietly kept the Boston Red Sox scoreless for four innings until he got tired and surrendered a three-run homer to David Ortiz.

That stint allowed Mazzilli to rest his other relievers for Thursday, when the Orioles got 6 2/3 scoreless innings from their bullpen in a 3-2 victory over Boston.

This time, Bauer retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced. The only blemish was a single by Toby Hall in the sixth.

"That was phenomenal," Bedard said. "I was watching on TV, and he was right on the corners. That's what I'm supposed to do, but I didn't do it."

Early in the game, the Orioles had some frustrating moments, and Mazzilli even got into his first exchange with an umpire. They had a chance to send Bedard to the mound with a big first-inning lead, but Gonzalez limited the early damage.

Mora and Tejada singled, and Rafael Palmeiro lined a double down the right-field line. It was the 544th double of Palmeiro's career, moving him past Tony Gwynn into sole possession of 17th place on the all-time list.

With Tejada's speed, the play probably would have scored two runs, but the ball bounced off the artificial turf over the fence for a ground-rule double. Mora scored, but Tejada had to stop at third, and he was stranded there when Lopez and Jay Gibbons made outs.

The Orioles scored again in the third, but once again, they could have had more, as Tejada got thrown out at the plate by Devil Rays left fielder Jason Romano.

Tejada didn't like the call, and Mazzilli sprung from the dugout to express his displeasure with plate umpire Bruce Froemming.

Six innings and eight runs later, Mazzilli was in such a good mood, he joked about his catcher's .609 batting average.

"I'm going to be [ticked]," Mazzilli said, "if he's not hitting at least that at the All-Star break."

Orioles today

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 1:15 p.m.

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

Starters: Orioles' Eric DuBose (0-1, 5.06) vs. Devil Rays' Victor Zambrano (2-0, 5.73)

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