After slip, Tejada's round trip helps Orioles take flight, 3-2

Shortstop scores on error after falling on base path, sparks victory over Rays

July 18, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With so many serious issues hounding the Orioles lately, the occasional laughter muffled in last place, they figured to benefit from a little levity. Keep it light, have some fun, win a game.

If shortstop Miguel Tejada had to circle the bases in the third inning last night as if wearing roller skates and a blindfold, so be it. If an entire dugout seemed to loosen up upon his return, even better.

Tejada scored the tying run after hitting the dirt between second and third base, and he later built upon the Orioles' lead with a two-out double, giving enough support to Rodrigo Lopez and four relievers to produce a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.

Jason Grimsley left the bases loaded in the eighth, and Jorge Julio registered his second save in the series and 14th this season after allowing a two-out homer to Aubrey Huff.

Lopez (7-6), who tied Daniel Cabrera for the staff lead in wins, exited after 5 1/3 innings with the Orioles ahead 3-1. He can't complain about a lack of familiarity with the Devil Rays, facing them five times this year, including twice in relief. He should be able to recite their roster in his sleep.

Tejada looked ready to take a nap on the base paths.

With the Orioles (39-49) having a season-long problem delivering runners in scoring position - they were 1-for-11 last night - Tejada found a solution that erased Tampa Bay's 1-0 lead and changed the course of a game. He never stopped moving, except for that brief moment when he fell.

"It was a funky play," manager Lee Mazzilli said, "and it happened so quick."

Going for a triple after his fly ball slammed off the top of the right-field fence, Tejada lost his footing and should have been out to end the inning. But Rey Sanchez's relay to third skipped past Huff, and Tejada shifted to full speed again before sliding across the plate - reaching for it with his left hand.

"It's a play we work on," third base coach Tom Trebelhorn said, jokingly. "We call it the `Little League Homer.' We just keep running until they tag us out, and it worked like a charm. It turned the game around."

Tejada sat on the bench with a huge grin on his face as Cabrera pretended to administer smelling salts and another teammate waved a towel to cool him.

"They were trying to help me. I was so tired, but at the same time I was laughing," said Tejada, who was credited with a double. "I didn't really see anything. I didn't know where the ball was. I was just trying to get to third."

With injuries still depriving the Orioles of key regulars, Luis Lopez was used as the designated hitter for the second time this season. A career .245 hitter, Lopez had one homer and four RBIs, but he gave Mazzilli another left-handed hitter against Devil Rays starter Dewon Brazelton.

Make that five RBIs. Lopez flied to center in the fourth to score Javy Lopez and give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.

A healthy B.J. Surhoff would have been the obvious choice at DH, but he remains on the disabled list with a strained calf muscle.

David Segui could be activated by next weekend, but Mazzilli must deal in the present, and it's not the easiest arrangement. His outlook will improve today with Melvin Mora expected to come off the disabled list, giving the Orioles a .347 hitter in their lineup.

"He's the right-handed bat we've been missing," Mazzilli said.

Mora is hitting .308 with runners in scoring position, 55 points higher than the team average before last night. The Orioles' inability to deliver in such situations became an issue again in the first inning after Brian Roberts lined a double down the right-field line.

Roberts moved to third on a grounder by David Newhan, giving the Orioles at least two chances to score him. Tejada fell behind 1-2 before popping up, and Rafael Palmeiro flied to center.

It didn't get any better in the second. Larry Bigbie and Jerry Hairston walked with one out, but Luis Lopez tapped to third and Tim Raines struck out, making the Orioles 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position after two innings.

The trend was reversed in the fifth when Roberts and Tejada doubled, giving the Orioles' lone All-Star representative 76 RBIs, but the Orioles failed to score in the eighth after putting the first two runners on base.

Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the first before going silent. Carl Crawford was picked off second after a single and stolen base - Tejada sneaked behind him and made the tag - but Huff walked with two outs, moved to third on Cruz's single and scored on a wild pitch.

That was the only run off Rodrigo Lopez, who walked five. Starting again in right field, Hairston bailed him out with a diving catch near the line in the fourth after Julio Lugo singled with one out.

"He threw the ball well. I just think he got a little tired toward the end," Mazzilli said. "But he gutted it out."

So did Grimsley, who struck out Sanchez to leave the bases loaded in the eighth. Roberts committed an error with one out and Raines threw to the wrong base, allowing a runner to move up. Matos replaced him in the ninth.

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