Bigbie's homer in ninth keeps O's up, Jays down

Ainsworth gets on track in 5-3 win over Toronto

April 18, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - The Orioles were tied entering the ninth inning yesterday when the Toronto Blue Jays turned to their hottest reliever, Justin Speier, a pitcher Larry Bigbie had never faced in any form of organized baseball.

Bigbie needed a quick scouting report, so he asked hitting coach Terry Crowley for what he described later as "the famous yellow paper in Crow's back pocket."

With one glance, Bigbie learned that Speier was a sinker and slider specialist, so he went to the plate looking for something hard over the plate.

Two pitches into the at-bat, that's exactly what Bigbie got - a hard slider that he lifted into the center-field seats, spurring the Orioles to a 5-3 victory before 20,177 at SkyDome.

For the Orioles, it was that kind of game. For the Blue Jays, it's been that kind of season.

These two teams looked like two ships passing in the night. The Orioles (6-4) played their most complete game to date - pitching, hitting and defense - to earn their third consecutive victory, while the Blue Jays (3-8) matched their worst start in franchise history and fell to 0-5 at home.

The Orioles, who are off to their best start since they were 8-2 in 1998, remained in a tie for first (with Boston) in the American League East. But even more importantly this early in the season, they got a positive performance from everyone who stepped onto the field.

"You can't let only one guy go out and do it," said Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who drove in two of the team's runs. "That's why I think this is a good team."

Orioles starter Kurt Ainsworth, who had been burdened with a 37.80 ERA since his humiliating performance against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, lowered that mark to 10.38 after holding the Blue Jays to three runs over seven solid innings.

Ainsworth gave up four hits but struck out seven without issuing a walk. He squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-2, but after the Blue Jays tied it at 3 on Frank Catalanotto's RBI groundout in the fifth inning, Ainsworth didn't allow another base runner.

"By the end, I got into a little rhythm," he said. "And hopefully, that will carry into my next start."

In his first start, Ainsworth was foiled by three shoddy defensive plays, including a ball that center fielder Luis Matos lost in the twilight at Camden Yards. This time, Matos made two running catches onto the warning track and crashed into the blue-padded wall to steal extra bases from Greg Myers.

Second baseman Brian Roberts followed that with a nice play up the middle to steal a hit from Reed Johnson. Both of those plays came with the score tied 3-3 in the seventh.

"Obviously the defense was behind me today," Ainsworth said. "If one or two of those plays aren't made, it turns out to be a completely different ballgame."

With Ainsworth at 95 pitches, manager Lee Mazzilli turned to his hottest reliever, B.J. Ryan, to start the eighth. The Blue Jays put two men aboard, bringing Carlos Delgado to the plate, but Ryan (1-0) disposed of him with three low fastballs.

Delgado, the poster guy for the Blue Jays' latest struggles went 0-for-3, lowering his batting average to .128.

"They're definitely better than 3-8," Bigbie said. "They have some guys off to slow starts. Delgado's not going to hit .130 all year. He's going to catch fire; you just hope it's not against you."

The Orioles took the lead on Bigbie's third homer of the season, and Speier (1-1), who came to the Blue Jays in an offseason trade from Colorado, may have kicked himself for getting beat by the opponent's No. 9 hitter.

But by adding Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez to the middle of the order, the Orioles now boast a strong lineup, 1 to 9, and yesterday offered proof.

Roberts, the leadoff man, had two doubles and scored two runs. Matos, the No. 8 hitter, and Bigbie each singled to start the third inning against former Orioles pitcher Josh Towers. Bigbie stole second base, and both runners scored with one out when Melvin Mora doubled into the right-center gap.

"I feel very comfortable, from top to bottom with our lineup," Mazzilli said. "You know when you get down to the bottom three, guys can do something down there. They can hit it out, but they can steal a base as well."

Tejada made it 3-2 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. He was the only one in the lineup without a hit, but that changed when he lined an opposite-field single to right field, scoring Roberts to give the Orioles a 5-3 lead in the ninth.

Those two RBIs gave Tejada three for the season, and he improved to 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position. His single added a cushion for closer Jorge Julio, who pitched the ninth inning to earn his first save.

Orioles today

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 1:05 p.m.

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

Starters: Orioles' Eric DuBose (0-2, 5.56) vs. Blue Jays' Pat Hentgen (0-1, 7.27)

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