Finally, Orioles' hitters produce some timely hits

May 25, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Mariners in Seattle ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at baltimoresun.com.

SEATTLE -- The Orioles' season-high nine-run ninth inning on Tuesday night that turned a one-run game into a 14-4 rout of the Seattle Mariners was a welcome sight for Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who has watched his team fail to produce key runs in several games recently.

Overall, the Orioles' offense has given Perlozzo little to complain about. Entering the third game of a four-game set with the Mariners last night at Safeco Field, the Orioles were ninth in the major leagues in runs with 239. They were fifth in the league with 436 hits, sixth with 61 home runs and 12th with a .272 batting average.

But despite a .289 team average with runners in scoring position, the Orioles have left 52 runners on base over the past five games. The Orioles' lack of clutch hitting was a key factor in their collapse last season and it cost them in two losses over the weekend to the Washington Nationals.

"We went over a lot of this stuff in spring training and I think we've gotten away from it a little bit." Perlozzo said. "I think we're just trying to do too much. We've got to learn to play team baseball and take what is given to you. Those runs end up coming down the road for you."

Even Tuesday night, before catcher Ramon Hernandez rendered the matter moot with his grand slam, one of the Orioles' six hits in the ninth, the Orioles had a chance to break open the game in the third inning, send Seattle starter Joel Piniero to an early shower and give emergency starter John Halama more margin of error.

Leading 4-0, the Orioles had men on second and third and no outs after Hernandez singled and Corey Patterson doubled. But Kevin Millar grounded to third, with the runners holding. After an intentional walk to Nick Markakis, Luis Matos lined into a double play and no runs scored.

It appeared that the missed opportunity would come back to bite the Orioles, but some clutch late bullpen work and the ninth- inning offensive outburst squelched the Seattle rally.

"I thought that was going to come back and haunt us, but thank goodness we swung the bats later and the pitching kept us in the ballgame." Perlozzo said. "I know our pitching could be thin. We're stretching things out to a limit and those are big runs. If you just shoot a ground ball over the right side, you have a run and a man on third and maybe the next guy hits a fly ball, and you pick up two runs out of the deal."

Perlozzo, however, was pleased with his team's approach in the ninth, when the Orioles' rally began on Seattle reliever J.J. Putz, who had allowed just five earned runs in 21 innings. Putz managed to get just one out and was charged with four runs on three hits.

"You want to ride the wave a little." said Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar. " I think we all have had great at-bats, and Putz is tough. You have to get guys in from third base. Hopefully, we can use that as some momentum."

The nine runs were the most the Orioles have scored in an inning since tallying a club-record 12 in the sixth inning of a 15-6 win over Tampa Bay on April 11, 2002. In both games, all nine in the lineup scored at least one run.

"You always want to build on positives." said Patterson, who reached base in all six plate appearances Tuesday, and is 11-for-19 over his past five games. "We all hit the ball well in the ninth. It just goes to show you, if you think positive, good things will happen. We just have to stay focused through the tough times and the adversity. It's a long year."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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