O's finish off Jays, 7-0

First-place club picks up its first three-game sweep at SkyDome since 1994

DuBose yields 3 hits in 7 innings

Tejada has 4 hits, single in sixth to break 0-0 tie

April 19, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts was toast.

He broke for second base yesterday in the sixth inning of a scoreless game, and it was as if the Toronto Blue Jays had read his mind. Toronto executed a perfect pitchout, and the throw to second beat Roberts by two steps.

That's when it happened. That's when the Orioles got the break their new manager was anticipating in a 7-0 victory that capped a stunning weekend at SkyDome, where they assumed sole possession of first place in the American League East with their fourth straight win.

That's when Roberts realized he was playing for a different team.

"When you're out by a lot," Roberts said, "you just start making stuff up."

Roberts dived headfirst into the base, and Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson reached down for the easy tag.

But at the last second, Roberts pulled back his left arm, causing Hudson to whiff.

Craning his upper body toward the outfield, Roberts slid past the bag and grabbed it with his left foot. He looked up excitedly at umpire Brian O'Nora, expecting the worst. But O'Nora called him safe.

"I've tried before; it doesn't work all that often," Roberts said. "And a lot of times the umpire doesn't wait. He just calls you out because you're out by a whole bunch."

Right there, the Blue Jays were sunk again, and soon their crowd would boo them off the field as they fell to 3-9 for the season, including 0-6 at home.

Blue Jays starter Pat Hentgen, a former Oriole, had matched Orioles left-hander Eric DuBose zero-for-zero, but he quickly became preoccupied with Roberts at second.

Hentgen walked Melvin Mora and made two pickoff attempts on Roberts, but the second throw got past Hudson and bounced into center field.

In years past, the Orioles would sit back in the late innings of a close game and wait for something to go wrong. This time was different.

Manager Lee Mazzilli described the mood on the bench: "You look for that little break - an error, a bleeder, something like that, just to kind of jump-start you."

Miguel Tejada, who had four hits in the game, said he changed his approach once Hentgen made his error. Now, all he needed to do was make contact, and he did just that, lifting a single into left field.

Roberts scored, Mora advanced to third, and Rafael Palmeiro made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly. The Orioles added a run in the seventh, three in the eighth and one more in the ninth. By then, it all seemed scripted.

"I've never really been a part of a team like this at the big league level," said Roberts, whose Orioles debut came in 2001. "You need one break, and then people just pounce on it. I've seen other teams do it to us the last few years. But it's fun to be a part of it."

The Orioles flew home last night on the heels of a 5-2 road trip, sitting in first place all by themselves for the first time this late in a season since April 16, 1998.

At 7-4, they are off to their best 11-game start since they were 9-2 in 1998. They'll begin a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays tomorrow at Camden Yards.

"It's still really early," said Orioles left-hander B.J. Ryan, who pitched another scoreless inning of relief. "But you've just got to get your confidence going right now and then feed off of that confidence."

After the game, Mazzilli sat in his office, shrugging his shoulders.

The Orioles had just swept their first series at SkyDome since 1994. They had just swept a team that repeatedly embarrassed them in recent years. Toronto had gone 13-1-2 in its previous 16 series against the Orioles.

"That's what I heard," Mazzilli said. "I heard, historically, we haven't played well here. Obviously I'm not aware of it. ... I don't buy into that thing [of Toronto's dominance of the Orioles].

"It's just different. Different team, different year - that's all."

Not only did the Orioles sweep, but they also outscored the Blue Jays 23-5. They outhit Toronto 36-12. And they did it behind three pitchers who were all considered question marks coming into the season: Matt Riley, Kurt Ainsworth and DuBose.

"I think this was a big series for the three of us," said DuBose (1-2), who allowed three hits and struck out five in seven innings. "We all pitched to our abilities. It's a good feeling. It's good for the three of us to get these three outings under our belt."

The Orioles had 12 hits in each game of the series. Yesterday, Larry Bigbie made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, and then Jay Gibbons broke things open with a two-run double in the eighth.

Luis Matos and Javy Lopez also had run-scoring singles.

"We've always felt we were going to be able to score runs, and the pitching has been just as effective as our offense," Mazzilli said. "I think that's a good combination."

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