Orioles finish off Rays, season

In finale, team earns sweep of Rays

Fasano, Mora, Gibbons hit HRs

Orioles 6 Devil Rays 2

Baseball & Orioles


St. Petersburg, Fla. -- It couldn't end like this. Not with the Orioles being no-hit by a 27-year-old rookie making his first major league start. Not by one of their former farmhands, a guy twice claimed in the Rule 5 draft.

In a season filled with embarrassments, the Orioles weren't going to absorb this one. They already had reached their limit.

Luis Matos singled to begin the fifth inning yesterday, interrupting Tim Corcoran's flirtation with baseball history. It was more of a wink than a pick-up line, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' right-hander had been getting a bit pushy.

Matos scored on catcher Sal Fasano's game-tying, two-run homer, Bernie Castro singled in the seventh against reliever Jesus Colome to move the Orioles ahead, and they closed the 2005 season with a 6-2 victory over the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.

Melvin Mora hit his 27th home run in the eighth inning and Jay Gibbons added a two-run shot, as the Orioles (74-88) completed their first three-game sweep since Aug. 15-17. They finished in fourth place in the American League East, with four fewer wins than last year.

Mora tied his career high in homers, hitting seven in the last 11 games. Gibbons ended up with 26 homers.

"This is a good way to end the season." Gibbons said. "We had that tough stretch, but we ended well. I'm kind of relieved."

Bruce Chen improved to 13-10 by holding Tampa Bay scoreless in four of his six innings. He exceeded his career high in wins by six.

"It's been very special," he said. "Looking back and not knowing if I was going to make the team, and they told me I might be in the bullpen, and I won the fifth starter's job and gave this team 13 wins, I'm very happy, I'm very proud of myself."

After the last out, players invented their own game - speed dressing - while rushing to catch their flights home. The team charter wasn't going to be full. It's much easier to forget a miserable season when not surrounded by the people who endured it with you.

The Orioles lost 11 of their last 15 games, 13 of 18 and 28 of 42. They went 23-32 under Perlozzo, who should find out this week whether he's returning next season, and 27-48 in the second half.

After last year's final game, former manager Lee Mazzilli wore dark shades to hide his watery eyes as he gathered his players for an emotional speech, which he had to cut short.

Perlozzo did most of his talking last week and early yesterday, so he went around the clubhouse and hugged various players and coaches.

"They played hard. Nobody wanted out of the game," Perlozzo said. "I tried to accommodate everyone I could. You try to do what you can for the guys. I'm really proud of the way they hung in there, the way they went through the whole two months when things went on. It could have gotten a lot worse, and a lot of guys stepped up and kept playing.

"There's certainly no sadness. I actually feel thankful for the time. I believe it's been a great two months of learning for me going into next year.

"I'm going to look at this thing positive and I'm going to tell you, `Boy, am I glad I got these two months in so I can come back strong next year and know what it's all about and get a jump-start on things.' I'm able to look at the ballclub from a managerial side and not a coaching side.

"I know I've got a lot of work ahead of me, and I'm looking forward to it."

Perlozzo just wants the chance to roll up his sleeves. He was more than happy to fold up the 2005 season.

"I didn't realize I'd take the losses as hard as I do," he said. "I wish I had been able to feel the pressure of a pennant race."

Gibbons wants Perlozzo to get that chance.

"I think it's going to be a completely different team next year," he said. "I hope that doesn't mean Sam and the coaching staff."

Notes -- Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks wants to return for a 38th season in the organization. Hendricks suffered a stroke during the team's first visit to St. Petersburg in April, but he's not ready to retire. "I feel good. In fact, I feel better than I have for at least the last two years," he said. "I would love to come back. It may sound corny, but this is my life. I have a whole lot invested in this ballclub. I can't think of anything I want to do. What am I going to do in retirement, come out and watch a game? I may as well stay here and work." ... Fasano almost became the fourth player in major league history to have double figures in home runs and fewer than 20 RBIs, but his two-run shot pushed him beyond the RBI limit. Fasano (11 homers, 20 RBIs) would have joined former Oriole Wayne Gross (11, 18 in 1985), the Texas Rangers' Todd Greene (10, 19 in 2002) and the Los Angeles Dodgers' David Ross (10, 18 in 2003).roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

Baseball playoffs

AL: WHITE SOX VS. RED SOX Game 1 tomorrow, 4:09 p.m., ESPN Defending champ Red Sox must open on road against team with AL's best record.

AL: ANGELS VS. YANKEES Game 1 tomorrow, 8:19 p.m., Ch. 45 The Yankees last lost a Division Series in 2002 - to the Angels, who host Game 1.

NL: CARDINALS VS. PADRES Game 1 tomorrow, 1:09 p.m., ESPN The barely-over-.500 NL West champs have nothing to lose vs. the 100-win Cardinals.

NL: BRAVES VS. ASTROS Game 1 Wednesday, 4:09 p.m., ESPN Houston, the NL wild card, ousted playoff perennial Atlanta in this round last year.

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