HRs in 12th lift Orioles after 2 blown saves, 10-6

Mora, Gibbons put away elusive win over Devil Rays to claim third place

September 01, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Pulling up early as they tried to enter the wild-card race, the Orioles must lower their expectations over the remaining 32 games. Third place has become the carrot that's dangled in front of them. Though not as tasty as a postseason spread, it's quite filling for a team that hasn't finished out of fourth the past six years.

"It's the immediate goal right now," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Third is better than fourth but not as good as second."

One helping at a time.

The Orioles were just relieved to move up one spot in the standings last night after twice blowing saves in a 10-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons homered in the 12th inning as part of a four-run outburst, finally concluding a game that kept moving as the Orioles tried to nail it down.

Mora led off the inning with a shot to left field off Lance Carter, and Gibbons added his second homer of the night, a two-run blast, to tie his career high with four hits.

Finally, it was enough.

"It sure doesn't seem like it's ever easy here," Mazzilli said.

Aubrey Huff tied the game with a two-out homer off Jorge Julio in the ninth and a two-out single off Buddy Groom in the 11th, but the Orioles (59-71) continued to swing. It was the only way to fend off the Devil Rays, who didn't surrender third place easily.

"We just battle and keep fighting," said Mora, who hit a slider from Carter for his 23rd homer. "We don't want to play extra innings. We don't get paid to play extra innings. But you don't want to give up."

The Orioles thought they won the game in the 11th when B.J. Surhoff singled off Jesus Colome to score pinch runner Val Majewski for a 6-5 lead. But Dave Borkowski, trying for his first major league save, gave up a bloop single to Julio Lugo with two outs, and Groom walked former Oriole Brook Fordyce.

Huff grounded a single to right, scoring Lugo, but Gibbons threw out Fordyce trying for third. More distance remained in the marathon.

"Every time we come here it's like this," said Gibbons, who hadn't homered since May 21. "If we're not up by 10 in the last inning, it's anybody's game."

Surhoff contributed a run-scoring double in the 12th before Gibbons connected again.

"It's been a rough year," said Gibbons, who came off the disabled list Aug. 10 after missing about six weeks. "Even when I felt good I had trouble getting in a rhythm. I'm just trying to put the ball in play."

Huff hit a two-run homer off starter Bruce Chen in the fifth, and Jose Cruz took Jason Grimsley deep in the seventh to reduce the Orioles' lead to 5-4. B.J. Ryan held the Devil Rays scoreless for 1 1/3 innings before Mazzilli turned to his closer, who proceeded to blow his fifth career save in 10 chances at Tropicana Field.

The dome protected the players from a vicious storm that echoed outside. Who's going to protect Julio from the Devil Rays? All three of his blown saves this year have come against Tampa Bay, including one at Camden Yards, where he's 42-for-47 lifetime.

"All the time we come in here, I don't know what happens with this team," he said.

Pressed for an explanation, Mazzilli offered none.

"Don't ask me," he said. "I have no idea."

Mazzilli said he wouldn't hesitate to call upon Julio again. "He's my closer," Mazzilli said. "He's my guy."

What does it say about the Devil Rays that they've slipped behind a club that lost 12 in a row before ending the streak Sunday? They're 5-14 since Aug. 9 and 19-34 since moving two games above .500 on July 3.

The Devil Rays had spent 61 of 75 days in third place, including the last six, but were evicted last night. It just took awhile.

"Any time you lose in extra innings," Huff said, "you feel like you've wasted your time."

Returning to right field after starting at first Sunday, Gibbons gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Rafael Palmeiro produced another run off Rob Bell in the fourth with a double that scored Miguel Tejada, and Brian Roberts' 40th double scored Gibbons in the fifth.

The first four batters reached in the sixth, with Javy Lopez's single driving in Tejada, and Roberts reached on an error leading off the seventh and came home on a single by Mora.

Shouldn't that have been enough?

It would have been in Chen's last start, when he turned in seven scoreless innings in his debut against Oakland. He mixed and located his pitches, and showed decent velocity - traits that made it difficult to believe he's been with seven organizations since 2002.

Last night didn't run as smoothly. "He was up a lot," Mazzilli said. "He said he couldn't get on top of the ball."

At least the Orioles got on top of the Devil Rays. Now the trick is staying there.

"We talked about it," Gibbons said. "At the very worst, we'd like to finish third."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 7:15

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

Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (9-7, 4.94) vs. Devil Rays' Mark Hendrickson (8-13, 4.91)

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