Orioles fly by Jays, 9-5, before departing

7 runs in first 3 innings boost Lopez to 13th win despite Wells' 2 homers

Minnesota, Boston are next 2 stops on last trip



TORONTO - So much for the easy part.

The Orioles" final road trip of the season continues tonight in Minnesota and concludes next week in Boston - two locations burning with playoff fever. Last night's opponent can't produce a mild head cold.

Given a chance to build some momentum at SkyDome before playing the role of spoilers, the Orioles were careful not to trip over any seams in the carpet, overcoming Vernon Wells" one- man crusade in a 9-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Orioles (67-77) won the series opener behind Bruce Chen's first complete game in the majors, and rebounded from Wednesday's shutout loss by scoring in the first three innings last night.

An announced crowd of 21,451 seemed much smaller, judging by the empty seats and the echoes. So did Toronto's chances of winning after two-run singles by Melvin Mora in the second and B.J. Surhoff in the third pushed the Orioles' lead to 6-1.

Larry Bigbie tacked on a sacrifice fly, and the Orioles had their eighth road win in their past 10 tries, though Wells made it interesting with two homers and four RBIs.

The Blue Jays loaded the bases twice in the seventh with none out on Rafael Palmeiro's error and three straight singles, but they only scored once. B.J. Ryan got the next three outs after replacing Jason Grimsley.

Wells homered twice off Rodrigo Lopez (13-8), and his single off Grimsley in the seventh reduced the Orioles" lead to 7-4. Mora provided a larger cushion in the eighth with a run-scoring single, and Palmeiro hit his 19th homer in the ninth.

Palmeiro reached base four times and is batting .396 with five homers and 16 RBIs in his past 14 games.

Lopez allowed nine hits and was charged with three earned runs. He didn't walk a batter.

Lopez has won his past three starts, though he struggled against the New York Yankees last Friday and didn't get out of the sixth inning. His only appearance against the Blue Jays this season came in relief five months ago, before he cracked the rotation for the first time.

He's making a strong case for staying in it next season.

His 13 victories lead the club, and a 3.88 ERA ranks among the American League leaders now that he finally has enough innings to qualify.

Unable to get a clutch hit in the last three innings of Wednesday's loss, the Orioles settled for a fielder's choice grounder by Palmeiro in the first last night to take a 1-0 lead against Miguel Batista.

The Orioles loaded the bases with one out, the rally starting when shortstop Russ Adams booted David Newhan's grounder for an error. Mora walked and Miguel Tejada reached on an infield hit.

The lead lasted for three batters. After striking out the first two, Lopez served up Wells' 18th home run.

His 19th came in the third inning and looked for an instant like it might leave the open dome. The ball traveled an estimated 445 feet, snuck around the foul pole and bounced off a seat in the second row of the fifth deck.

No doubt impressed by the distance, Lopez nonetheless retired 12 of the next 14 batters. His only 1-2-3 inning came in the sixth.

Batista didn't surrender a homer, but he was gone after failing to retire anyone in the third. He walked Palmeiro, gave up a single to Javy Lopez and threw a wild pitch before Surhoff lined a single into center field.

Bigbie's sacrifice fly off reliever Ryan Glynn completed the three-run inning and gave the Orioles a 7-1 lead.

Though he hit .215 over 21 games before last night, Surhoff has kept his season's average above .300. He signed minor league deals the last two winters and might have to do the same in 2005 if he's going to stay with the Orioles.

"He could help somebody." manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He's been good for us."

Batista (10-12) has pretty much bailed on Toronto, losing six of his past seven decisions. He threw 75 pitches last night, and 10 of the 16 batters reached base before interim manager John Gibbons made a change.

Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts came to the plate three times in the first three innings. By then, every starter had reached except Jay Gibbons, but he had a broken-bat single in the eighth.

Besides Wells' power display and the seventh-inning jam, the only tense moment for the Orioles came when Glynn drilled Palmeiro on the right knee in the fourth. Palmeiro collapsed in the batter's box, but he hobbled to first base and stayed in the game.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:10

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Sidney Ponson (10-14, 5.31) vs. Twins' Terry Mulholland (5-8, 5.04)

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