O's bats repay Benson debt

This time, pitcher rewarded for start, as 3 have 2 RBIs to get O's back to .500

Orioles 8 Devil Rays 4

April 12, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In effect, the Orioles owed Kris Benson exactly what they presented him with last night. In his Orioles debut last Thursday, Benson pitched well, but took the loss when his team didn't score.

By the time Benson took the mound for the bottom of the fourth inning last night, his team had scored seven runs and he had a six-run lead with which to work. Relying on the same formula from a night earlier, the Orioles got early offense from a host of players and another strong effort from Benson in an 8-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in front of 12,600 at Tropicana Field.

A night after Erik Bedard shut down the Devil Rays, Benson authored a fine follow-up performance, allowing only two runs - one earned - through seven-plus innings. The Orioles returned to .500 (4-4), getting two RBIs each from Brian Roberts, David Newhan and Miguel Tejada. They sent rookie Jason Hammel to the showers early with a run in the first on Melvin Mora's bases- empty homer, and three runs in the third and the fourth.

Benson didn't need all that support, but after watching his seven-inning, four-hit and two-run performance last Thursday go to waste, he enjoyed it nonetheless. He gave up five hits and walked one while striking out five, his ERA falling to 1.93 through two starts.

"It was definitely nice." Benson said of the early cushion. "We came out swinging the bats and everybody was feeling good."

Rookie Sendy Rleal got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and Chris Ray was once again needed to close the deal in the ninth. Jim Brower made things interesting in the inning, allowing two runs before he was yanked with two men on and two outs. However, Ray quickly got his third save, striking out Jorge Cantu looking.

Benson remained sharp, allowing only a bases-empty home run to Ty Wigginton through five innings last night. Unlike last week, Benson had plenty of breathing room.

"He pitched great." manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I think for the most part he kept the ball down and worked both sides of the plate. And his changeup has really helped him."

The Orioles appeared to catch a break when they learned late Monday night that left-hander Mark Hendrickson, the Devil Rays' scheduled starter, was going on on the disabled list because of shoulder stiffness. Hendrickson pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout against Benson in the Devil Rays' 2-0 victory over the Orioles last Thursday.

Instead, the Orioles faced Hammel, a 23-year-old right-hander making his major league debut. Hammel was Tampa Bay's Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season after going 11-4 with a 3.24 ERA while pitching both in Double-A and Triple-A.

Several Orioles spent some time before the game trying to get a scouting report on Hammel, though they wasted no time jumping on the youngster once the game began. Mora turned around the first pitch he saw, a 94-mph fastball, and deposited it about five rows up in the left-field seats for a bases-empty home run, his third of the season. Mora had been 1-for-12 entering the at-bat.

About the team's offense, Perlozzo said, "They're starting to play the way they are capable of playing. Brian Roberts is not going to hit .200. Melvin [Mora] is not going to hit .200."

Luis Matos and Roberts hit back-to-back singles in the third, putting men on first and third with one out. Newhan, making his third straight start, scored Matos with a high chopper to first that the Orioles left fielder beat out for an infield single.

After Mora popped out to first baseman Travis Lee, red-hot shortstop Tejada powered a double off the right-center-field wall, scoring two runs and giving the Orioles a 4-1 lead.

Hammel got out of the inning, but was unable to escape in the fourth. He loaded the bases with no outs, allowing a double to Ra mon Hernandez, a single to Kevin Millar and a walk to Javy Lo pez.

With the Devil Rays' bullpen beginning to get warm, Hammel struck out Matos before catching too much of the plate with a two-strike pitch to Roberts. The Orioles second baseman crushed it off the right-field wall, barely missing a grand slam, but bringing home two runs.

An RBI single by Newhan off reliever Brian Meadows completed the Orioles' three-run fourth, an inning where injury combined with insult for the Devil Rays. Chasing a Mora fly ball in foul territory, Devil Rays third baseman Aubrey Huff collided with shortstop Nick Green with the ball and Huff and Green hitting the turf.

After being tended to for several moments by Tampa Bay's training staff, Huff walked gingerly off the field with what was later called a left knee strain. He'll have a magnetic resonance imaging test today to determine if there is further damage.

It was that kind of night for the Devil Rays, who are already playing without Julio Lugo and Rocco Baldelli.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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