O's use bolts of speed and bats of thunder

Orioles: Lee Mazzilli has watched his offense strike on the bases and at the plate.

Baseball

April 28, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

BOSTON — POWER SURGE FOR ORIOLES

RUNS SCORED - 125 1ST IN AL

STOLEN BASES - 22 2ND IN AL

HOME RUNS - 29 2ND IN AL

BATTING AVERAGE - .303 1ST IN AL

TOTAL BASES - 369 1ST IN AL

SLUGGING PCT. - .489 1ST IN AL

BOSTON - His team had been shut out for 21 straight innings, and as he sat in the visiting dugout Friday before the series opener in Toronto, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli was fielding the obvious questions.

But no matter how many times he was asked, no matter how many reminders he was given of those two zeros his offense put up in losses at home against the Boston Red Sox last week, Mazzilli refused to express even the slightest bit of concern.

"I am not going to worry about my offense," Mazzilli said emphatically. "I'm not."

That night, the Orioles went out and scored 13 runs on 17 hits against the Blue Jays. As their road trip ended yesterday at Boston, their sixth and final game of the trip postponed until June 2 because of rain, they enter the day off on a staggering offensive run.

In going 5-0 on the trip, the Orioles (14-7) hit .360, collected 72 hits and 11 home runs, scored 43 runs and stole nine bases.

"Every day, we find someone else to do the job," said Orioles catcher Javy Lopez, who has an eight-game hitting streak and is seventh in the American League with a .356 average. "From one to nine, we're all hitting good. There's no window for any pitcher to relax."

In Tuesday night's 11-8 victory against the Red Sox, a game in which they trailed by five runs in the fifth inning, the Orioles pounded Boston pitching for 20 hits. Asked after the game if he was the manager of the best offense in baseball, Mazzilli flashed a grin and said, "That's not for me to decide."

No team can make a case like the Orioles'. Through 21 games, they lead the AL in batting average (.303), slugging percentage (.489) and runs scored (125). They are second in the AL with 29 home runs, but as a result of their versatile lineup, they also are second in the league with 22 steals.

The last team to lead the league in both home runs and steals was the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

"The way the offense is, you have speed at the top, speed on the bottom and you have thunder in the middle," said Mazzilli, whose team is 22-for-26 on steal attempts. "Guys are aggressive on the bases. They are running, they're stealing and they are making things happen."

No player illustrates the Orioles' versatility - and their torrid start - more than second baseman Brian Roberts. Heading into last night's games, the leadoff man led the league in slugging percentage (.713) and was tied for first in homers (seven) and fourth in RBIs (23). He was also first in runs (19) and triples (three), tied for second in steals (nine) and tied for fourth in walks (13).

In Monday night's victory over the Red Sox and David Wells, Roberts led off the game with a single, stole second and third and scored on a single by Miguel Tejada. It certainly didn't get as much attention as his three-run, seventh-inning homer off Tom Gordon that eventually sank the Yankees on April 16, but to Roberts, it was just as important.

"Maz has given everybody the freedom to pretty much play to their strengths," Roberts said. "You can't always wait for the home run."

Third baseman Melvin Mora, who bats either second or third in the lineup, hit .340 last year with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs. Along with his four home runs, Mora is currently tied for the AL lead with three sacrifice bunts. In Monday's series opener against the Red Sox, Mora bunted with two strikes, trying to move Roberts over to third in the first inning.

On his two-run eighth-inning homer off Red Sox closer Keith Foulke on Tuesday, Tejada, who led the majors with 150 RBIs last season and is ahead of that pace this season with 25, maintained that he was simply trying to move Mora over to third.

"I know I have [Sammy] Sosa behind me," Tejada said. "I know what he can do."

Sosa - and his 574 home runs entering this season - was the only significant offensive acquisition the Orioles made in the offseason. But Rafael Palmeiro said it is important to take into account the experience the younger players, like Roberts, center fielder Luis Matos and left fielder Larry Bigbie, got last year.

Matos, a cog at the bottom of the order, is hitting .339 with 12 RBIs and he is tied for fourth in the AL with seven steals. His .636 average with runners in scoring position is best in the AL.

"It's basically the same team, but better players," said Palmeiro, who hopes his three hits Tuesday will jump-start his bat. "The younger players are better. [Roberts] is a better player. [Luis] Matos is healthy and he's a better player. We're just a better team."

And, as Mazzilli has pointed out several times this season, a deeper one. When the Orioles faced Randy Johnson earlier this year, Mazzilli had the luxury of starting all right-handed hitters and veteran B.J. Surhoff. The Orioles touched the Yankees' lefty for four earned runs and six hits in six innings. They beat Wells, another tough lefty, here on Monday with a similar lineup.

But against right handers like Toronto's Roy Halladay, whom the Orioles knocked around Sunday, Mazzilli can put out a lineup laden with quality left-handed hitters and get players like Surhoff and David Newhan more at-bats.

"This year," Mazzilli said, "we have the depth where we can do that."

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