4 homers, Riley keep O's flying toward finish line, 9-3

.500 stays in sight as O's rout Jays for 3rd in row

Tejada's bat, glove shine

October 01, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

They passed last season's win total of 71 last week, and with it went many comparisons to recent Orioles teams that limped their way into the offseason.

This year's Orioles have hit the season's last weekend in a full-fledged gallop.

Miguel Tejada, Larry Bigbie, Jay Gibbons and David Newhan all homered and Matt Riley settled down after a rough start as the Orioles erased an early three-run deficit to down the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-3, last night before 18,793 at Camden Yards.

After taking three of four from the Blue Jays, it has come to this for the Orioles (77-81): With four games remaining, the team can reach the .500 mark for the first time in seven seasons with a sweep this weekend of the Boston Red Sox. This is as close as the team has been to the .500 mark since Aug. 17.

It's not exactly an ideal situation, needing to take four straight games from a playoff-bound team with 95 wins. But few Orioles were complaining last night, not after winning 71 games last year, not after posting a 37-48 record at the All-Star break. And things looked especially dreary last night after they fell into a 3-0 hole.

"[The Red Sox] are one of the best teams in the league and hopefully, we can cap off the season," said Newhan, who was 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs. "If we aren't in the playoffs, at least this will be something to build off of. You set a goal and you just want to try and reach it. I guess a tie [a .500 record] would be like kissing your sister, but nobody wants to be a loser."

Unfortunately for the Orioles, catcher Javy Lopez may not be along for the ride. The catcher left the game in the third inning last night after fouling a ball off his left ankle an inning earlier. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary X-rays, though Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli didn't think it was that serious.

The Orioles inflicted a different kind of pain on former teammate Josh Towers (9-8). After being staked to a 3-0 lead thanks to bases-empty homers by Carlos Delgado and Frank Menechino and an RBI single from Delgado, the Blue Jays starter was chased in the third inning after the Orioles put up four runs on four hits.

Newhan singled in Bigbie, followed by a Melvin Mora bloop single that scored Brian Roberts. Tejada then struck the biggest blow, driving a double into the right-center-field gap to score two and give his team a 4-3 lead.

Two innings later, Tejada hit a bases-empty home run - his 33rd of the season - to up the Orioles' advantage to 6-3.

Tejada, who broke the team's single-season RBI record on Wednesday, has driven in 146 runs, the second-highest total by a shortstop behind Vern Stephens' 159 in 1949.

Bigbie (3-for-4) added a homer to lead off the sixth, and Gibbons and Newhan each tacked on shots in the eighth off Blue Jays closer Miguel Batista.

Relievers Todd Williams, Jorge Julio and Buddy Groom all pitched in with scoreless outings as Riley improved to 3-4, while showing the team more signs of growth.

Clearly without his best stuff, Riley persevered through five innings and 90 pitches, surrendering three hits, though two of them were long home runs. He struck out five Blue Jays, but walked three, and he may have been saved by a sparkling defensive play from Tejada to get out of the third.

With men on first and third and only one out after Toronto had pushed two runs across in the inning, Alexis Rios hit a hard shot that Tejada scooped up with his back to home plate. He then flipped the ball to Roberts, who fired to Rafael Palmeiro for a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.

"I still don't know how he caught that ball," Mazzilli said. "It was a rocket."

Added Riley: "You look for the play that turned the game around and that was it. I love having him behind me."

Riley was nowhere near as dominant as he was in his previous start when he went six shutout innings, allowing only two hits in a 3-0 victory over Detroit. However, Riley, maligned in the past for his focus, kept his composure and pitched two scoreless innings following a rough trip through the first three.

"He was all over the place early, but he came back," Mazzilli said. "It was a real encouraging sign."

Since being recalled from Ottawa on Sept. 6, Riley is 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts.

"You have to chalk this one up to the team," he said. "I gave up three and they scored four. They picked me up."

NOTES: Mazzilli said that he is still uncertain who will start Sunday's season finale against the Red Sox, but he is considering bringing back Rick Bauer, who pitched Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader, on three days' rest. ... The Orioles will honor outfielder Val Majewski today as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. ... With Tejada's third-inning double last night, the Orioles broke the franchise record for most doubles in a season with 312. Tejada's homer in the fifth was the team's 1,572nd hit this season, also setting a club record.


Today RED SOX 7:35 Chs. 54, 20

Sat. RED SOX (2) 1:25/7:05 Ch. 45/Chs. 54, 20

Sun. RED SOX 1:35 CSN

Mon. Season over




Radio: All games on WBAL (1090 AM)

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