Orioles get straight A's

DuBose charges up sweep for energized O's, 5-3

Baseball

August 18, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Orioles arrived here Sunday night in a perilous position, their once-realistic playoff hopes dangling by a thread, in danger of being snipped altogether by one of the hottest teams in baseball.

When one of the most improbable three-game stretches in this hugely unpredictable season ended yesterday at McAfee Coliseum, Orioles shortstop and team leader Miguel Tejada considered that proposition.

"There's a lot of people that expected our team to be going down, but we're not down," he said emphatically. "We're not out of this yet."

Finally, optimism was in order for the Orioles. Behind six innings of one-hit pitching by emergency starter Eric DuBose, the Orioles culminated a three-game sweep of the suddenly vulnerable Athletics with a 5-3 victory that cut their wild-card deficit behind Oakland to seven games.

When Todd Williams, needed to close the game because B.J. Ryan was unavailable, struck out A's catcher Adam Melhuse looking for the last out and violently pumped his fists in celebration of his first major league save, the Orioles improved to 60-60, returning to the .500 mark for the first time since July 29. They are 9-4 under interim manager Sam Perlozzo.

"He is doing a great job right now," Tejada said when asked if he would like his manager to return next season. "He deserves it. Everybody has confidence in him. Everybody feels comfortable. If they decide to give him a job, why not?"

It was the Orioles' first series sweep of Oakland (67-53) since 1998, and their first sweep here since 1993. Coming in, the Orioles had lost 10 straight at Mc- Afee Coliseum and 15 of 17.

"It feels great," said Perlozzo, whose team will open a three-game series in Cleveland tomorrow after an off day today. "They are sky high and everyone is chipping in. We got a last-minute pitching replacement who does just an outstanding job. You'd have lost a lot of money if you thought that was going to happen against this club."

DuBose, who was recalled on Aug. 9 from Double-A Bowie with the expectations of being in the Orioles' bullpen, learned that he would be needed to start just 20 minutes before the first pitch after Daniel Cabrera came down with back pain while warming up.

Set back this year because of his spring training arrest in Florida on driving under the influence charges, DuBose didn't allow a hit for 4 2/3 innings before giving up a single to Mark Ellis. DuBose said that the late notice that he would start worked to his advantage.

"I didn't have a chance to think about the start or what I would do in this situation," said DuBose, who was a first-round draft pick by Oakland in 1997 and earned his first major league win since May 2004. "I just tried to get one out at a time, make one pitch at a time."

On his final pitch, he got Bobby Kielty to ground out to third baseman Melvin Mora with two men on. By then, he had far surpassed Perlozzo's expectations.

"I was content if the guy could get through five and save us a little bit, maybe we can piece something together," Perlozzo said. "But he was rolling right along. We toyed with the idea of now, if he does get the start, not telling him."

Nobody is sure, however, when that will be. Cabrera, who was diagnosed with a mid-back strain, was so uncomfortable after the game that he couldn't bend down to put on his sandals. He needed to have locker mate Erik Bedard come over and help him.

"I will see how I feel tomorrow," Cabrera said. "When I [started] warming up in the bullpen, about five minutes later it started hurting. They are treating it, putting ice and other stuff and giving me medicine for the pain and see where I'm at tomorrow."

The Orioles touched Oakland starter Danny Haren (10-9) for two runs in the second inning and two more in the fifth. Haren needed 98 pitches to make it through five innings.

Luis Matos then connected for his fourth home run, a leadoff shot off Justin Duchscherer in the seventh inning. The Orioles center fielder was 3-for-4 and is hitting .300.

Spotted a seemingly comfortable 5-0 lead, the Orioles' bullpen saw things get tenuous before the team could get out of town. Jason Grimsley relieved DuBose and allowed three hits and three earned runs - the big blow Jay Payton's two-run homer - without an out in the seventh inning.

With Ryan and fellow left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak essentially unavailable after heavy work since Saturday, the much-maligned Steve Kline came in and got six big outs, getting the ball to Williams with a 5-3 lead. Williams struck out Payton, got Ellis to ground out and then fanned Melhuse to end the game and deal the A's their first four-game losing streak since late May.

The normally reserved Williams pumped his fist and chest-bumped catcher Sal Fasano, a celebration that Perlozzo said was great to see. After saving 222 games in the minor leagues, Williams finally got one in the majors.

"I take a big razzing about how many I have in the minor leagues," Williams said. "The ongoing joke is that if I ever get a major league save I'll get my own room for it at home. To get that, the emotions were just unbelievable."

Williams' outburst was a fitting end to the Orioles' about-face here. They are winning again and having fun. But are they playoff contenders?

"I am not sure we're quite close enough to get that feeling," Perlozzo said. "That's our long-range goal. It's going to be a long, tough road. We're going to have to have a lot of ballgames and we know that. The guys believe in themselves."

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