Gibbons finds stroke

O's trip Mariners, 3-1

Slumping outfielder hits two-run single in 8th to end 3-game losing streak

Moyer frustrates O's again for 7

Ainsworth goes strong 5, and Parrish, Julio don't allow hit in last 4 innings

April 29, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

By the time he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning last night, with the score tied and the bases loaded, Orioles slugger Jay Gibbons was in a bewildered state he later described as "beyond frustration."

He was hitless in his past 15 at-bats. In his first three trips to the plate against Seattle Mariners soft-tosser Jamie Moyer, he failed to hit a ball past the pitcher's mound.

"I can only break so many bats down underneath [the grandstand]," Gibbons said. "I was really calm actually. I was just like, `What do I have to lose?'"

Moyer was gone, Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa was in, and after looking foolish on his first swing, Gibbons smashed a two-run single up the middle that lifted the Orioles to a 3-1 victory before 20,445 at Camden Yards.

After going another game without a quality start - this time because manager Lee Mazzilli wanted to be careful with Kurt Ainsworth's tender right shoulder - the Orioles got three innings of hitless relief from John Parrish and one from Jorge Julio to end their three-game losing streak.

Moyer, the 41-year-old lefty who didn't throw a pitch harder than 83 mph, continued his mastery against his former team, holding the Orioles to one run on four hits over seven innings.

By the end of Moyer's stint, the Orioles were visibly frustrated, as B.J. Surhoff and Luis Matos both barked at home plate umpire Dale Scott after strikeouts.

Moyer hit Gibbons on the right hand in the first inning, a free base that came with little pain. Gibbons came up again in the third, with runners at first and second, and hit a sharp comebacker that Moyer snagged and then lobbed to first to end the inning.

Then in the sixth, with the score still tied 1-1, Gibbons took a whack at the first pitch he saw from Moyer, and hit a little pop-up to the pitcher's mound.

"He's an absolute nightmare," said Gibbons, who is 0-for-8 lifetime against Moyer. "I swear a high school kid would have a much better chance hitting off that guy."

With Moyer finally gone, the Orioles awakened in the eighth inning like little kids on Christmas morning. Miguel Tejada drilled a double down the left-field line off Hasegawa, who then walked Rafael Palmeiro (intentionally) and Javy Lopez (unintentionally) to get to Gibbons.

The Lopez walk was actually a seven-pitch battle that Gibbons called "incredible."

Gibbons came to the plate with no outs batting .206.

"I felt confident when he was up there, no question," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "What you need to do right there is put the ball in play. You're not even looking for a hit, although you'd like to have one."

Hasegawa (1-3) is a sinker and split-fingered fastball specialist, so Gibbons figured every pitch would be headed down in the strike zone. Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley reminded him to look for something above the knees.

"Of course, the first pitch I swung at was in the dirt," Gibbons said. "That's when I knew I was struggling."

But with a 1-1 count, Hasegawa threw a sinker about knee-high, over the outer half of the plate, and Gibbons drove it into center field for the game-winner. Tejada scored, and Palmeiro lumbered home, giving Gibbons 15 RBIs on the season.

"Hopefully it gets me a couple hits [today] and gets me going," Gibbons said. "It's been a struggle mechanically all year. I haven't been able to find it yet."

For the most part, neither has Ainsworth.

He held the Mariners to one run in five innings, but he was at 91 pitches, and with the score tied, Mazzilli turned to Parrish to start the sixth. Ainsworth allowed one run on four hits and four walks, lowering his ERA to 7.71.

"I didn't want to push it," Mazzilli said. "He came out on a good note."

Ainsworth, who spent most of last season recovering from a freak broken right shoulder blade, felt some soreness in the shoulder following his last start.

"It just scared me a little bit at first," Ainsworth said. "It was probably from last year, the scar tissue breaking up a little. In between starts, I threw the ball real well in my bullpen [session], and it felt really good tonight.

"Even though I went five innings, it was still a pretty good start, and that can build my confidence."

Parrish (2-1) walked the first batter he faced, and then retired the next nine in a row to earn the victory. Julio retired the side in the ninth to earn his third save and lower his ERA to 0.90.

On Parrish, Mazzilli said, "You can't say enough about what he did."

As for Gibbons, Mazzilli had to smile. As the No. 6 hitter in a lineup behind Tejada, Palmeiro and Lopez, Gibbons is being counted on for some big hits this season. With the game on the line, he produced one of the most important hits of the young season.

"A close game like this, it was big," Mazzilli said. "He did it at the right time."

Orioles today

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 3:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mariners' Joel Pineiro (1-2, 8.46) vs. Orioles' Eric DuBose (2-2, 3.20)

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