O's Riley tames Tigers to end wait

3-0 victory gives lefty first win since April, adds to fine finish

`September has been good to me'

September 26, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

The Orioles couldn't replicate the excitement from Friday when Miguel Tejada's three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth sent his teammates into hysteria, but that's no surprise.

Walk-off home runs don't happen very often and they are certainly victories that teams tend to savor a little more than most. When the season ends in a week, yesterday's 3-0 conquest of the Detroit Tigers before 29,598 at Camden Yards surely won't stir the same emotion -- unless you're Matt Riley.

In his first victory since April 16, the left-hander mildly flirted with a no-hitter, holding the Tigers hitless through 4 2/3 innings and pitching six innings of two-hit, shutout ball to improve to 2-4.

The Orioles scored two in the first and one more in the seventh on Brian Roberts' safety squeeze bunt that scored Larry Bigbie and turned into a single. That was plenty of leeway for Riley and the Orioles' bullpen, which benefited from sharp defensive plays from Tejada, third baseman Melvin Mora and left fielder B.J. Surhoff in holding Detroit to five hits.

"The guys got me some early runs and played some great defense out there," said Riley, who threw 48 of his 84 pitches for strikes. "I was throwing heaters pretty much, just trying to locate my heater down and away and make the guys put the ball in play."

After scoreless innings by Buddy Groom and Jason Grimsley, B.J. Ryan came on in the ninth, loading the bases before getting his second save of the season -- and first since taking over from Jorge Julio as the team's primary closer. Ryan pumped his fist emphatically after striking out pinch hitter Chris Shelton on three straight pitches for the final out.

The Orioles (73-80) will go for the series -- and the season -- sweep of the Tigers (68-85), who lost for the sixth time in the past seven games, today behind right-hander Rodrigo Lopez.

Lopez wasn't in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season like Riley was. But after struggling with a variety of factors, ranging from an achy shoulder to high pitch counts to a lack of discipline, Riley was eventually sent to Triple-A Ottawa.

The topper was a day before making a July 2 start, when Riley was allowed to leave the team early to get to Philadelphia and relax. But instead of staying, Riley drove back to Baltimore to see his girlfriend and didn't arrive at Citizens Bank Park until 4:30 p.m. the next day, about 2 1/2 hours before game time.

He blew a 5-0 lead by the second inning against the Phillies and was sent down afterward.

Riley and the team have put the incident behind them and while neither manager Lee Mazzilli nor Riley is apt to discuss next year, the left-hander has certainly made a case to at least be considered for the rotation.

Since being recalled on Sept. 7, Riley has a 1.82 ERA, giving up just 11 hits and five earned runs in four starts, but he didn't have a win to show for it until yesterday.

"He's matured," said Mazzilli. "You see progress in a lot of areas."

Said Riley: "[The season] has been disappointing, but September has been good to me. I've taken a step forward."

After giving up his first hit, a single to Carlos Pena, with two outs in the fifth, Riley walked Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn -- the Tigers' eighth and ninth hitters -- to load the bases. But he froze Omar Infante with a curveball to get out of the inning, hopping off the mound after the called third strike.

"When I walked the eight and nine guys, I wanted to kick myself in the butt," said Riley. "I just tried to flush that and get the next guy."

Added pitching coach Ray Miller: "At the big league level, managers are not going to stay with you too long when you [walk the No. 8 and 9 hitters], so it's something you have to overcome. [Riley's] going to be all right. He just has to learn to focus. It takes a while to mature in front of 30,000 people."

Disappointed after being removed from Monday's start against Boston in the fifth inning with an 8-4 lead and just one out shy of being eligible for a victory, Riley returned to the dugout after striking out Rondell White, his final batter, on a 3-2 fastball to end the top of the sixth with a bit more satisfaction.

His counterpart, Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman, couldn't relate. Much like Jason Johnson did a night earlier, Bonderman (10-13) allowed two runs in the first inning on Tejada's RBI groundout and Rafael Palmeiro's run-scoring single before settling down.

Bonderman, who went seven innings, striking out five and allowing five hits and all three runs, held the Orioles in check until the seventh, when a Jay Gibbons single moved Bigbie to third with one out.

Roberts bunted the first pitch past an outstretched Bonderman. Having no chance to get Bigbie at home, Rayburn, the Tigers' second baseman, couldn't field the ball cleanly.

"It's the first squeeze this year that I can remember us doing," Roberts said. "We needed one more run for sure."

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