Riley's start a relief for O's in 11-2 victory

Pitcher holds Blue Jays to 1 hit in 7 innings, gives team what it hoped for

Mazzilli: `He did a great job'

Lopez, Palmeiro, Gibbons hit HRs

O's tied for first

April 17, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - The Orioles had the kind of game that can dare a franchise to dream last night. Rookie Matt Riley was that good in an 11-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Maybe it wasn't Fenway Park, where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were renewing their ballyhooed rivalry. Maybe it wasn't even the biggest sporting event in this town.

Maybe it came beneath the sterile din of SkyDome, where the loudest cheers from a sparse crowd broke out when the hometown's beloved hockey team, the Maple Leafs, scored playoff goals in another building.

But the Orioles saw Riley look every bit the pitcher they have long hoped he could be, as he held the Blue Jays to one hit over seven dominant innings.

"It's just overwhelming to me," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He did a great job."

Javy Lopez sparked a six-run second inning with his third homer of the season, and Rafael Palmeiro and Jay Gibbons each added home runs, as the Orioles improved to 5-4, giving them their best nine-game start since 2000. They are in a three-way tie for first place with the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the American League East.

Coming off their 12-7, 11-inning victory at Boston late Thursday night, the Orioles needed to give their bullpen a rest. Riley did that, and then some.

With a fastball that reached 95 mph, and an even more devastating curve, the left-handed Riley (1-0) struck out a career-high seven, including Carlos Delgado and Eric Hinske twice.

The lone hit off Riley was a home run by Josh Phelps in the second inning.

Granted, it was only his second outing of the season, so it's a little soon to start his rookie of the year campaign. But he's sitting on a 1.35 ERA after 13 1/3 innings against two of baseball's most potent offensive teams from last season, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays.

The Orioles could be forgiven for hoping Riley turns into this year's version of Dontrelle Willis, who won the National League's top rookie honors last year for the world champion Florida Marlins.

"I just try to take it one start at a time," Riley said. "I definitely have goals for myself and for this team. I think the most important thing is to go out there and get wins. All the individual stats mean nothing unless you go out there and get that W.

"I'm just very excited about this year and our team."

Riley, 24, showed flashes of this same brilliance last season, when he returned to the big leagues after a long, hard four years that included a return from major reconstructive elbow surgery in 2001.

After spending most of last year in the minors, Riley came up in September and had two strong, five-inning performances against these same Blue Jays. He won his first major league game, on Sept. 14 at SkyDome, and finished the season with a 1.80 ERA.

But teams are taught never to put too much stock into performances from September, when the rosters are diluted with minor league prospects.

This was different. This was the real thing. And beyond how well he pitched, Riley talked about his new bond with Lopez, the team's new $22.5 million catcher who got his training catching all those great pitchers with the Atlanta Braves.

"He's become like a mentor since I've been here," Riley said. "He's kind of taken me under his wing and kind of shown me the ropes. It's great. When we're out there, we trust each other."

Riley held the Red Sox to two runs (one earned) in 6 1/3 innings on April 8, and the Orioles won that one, 3-2, in 13 innings.

This time, the offense made it easy for Riley to coast, as they sent 10 batters to the plate in the second against Blue Jays starter Miguel Batista (0-2).

Overall, the Orioles are starting to show signs of shaking their early offensive doldrums. After scoring 17 runs in their first five games, they have scored 35 in their past four.

"With our team scoring as many runs as we did today, I was able to go out and be aggressive," Riley said.

Lopez entered the night leading the majors in hitting and went 2-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored, leaving his average at a tidy .500. He led off the second inning with a home run into the center-field seats.

"It was a 3-1 count, pitch right down the middle, what can I say?" Lopez said. "I was going to swing as hard as I can, especially when the game's tied."

Before long it was clear Batista was off his game. He issued four-pitch walks in the inning to Gibbons and Larry Bigbie.

Luis Matos made it 2-0 with a run-scoring single up the middle.

Brian Roberts, who has overcome an 0-for-16 start to raise his average to .237, made it 4-0 with a two-run double to right field. Melvin Mora added a run-scoring single, and Palmeiro had a sacrifice fly.

Orioles today

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Kurt Ainsworth (0-1, 37.80) vs. Blue Jays' Josh Towers (0-0, 0.00)

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