Conine leaves in style

His tying double in eighth sets up Tejada to complete sweep in ninth

Orioles 5 Devil Rays 4

August 28, 2006|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun Reporter

Usually, a going-away present goes to the person doing the departing.

But that wasn't the case at Camden Yards yesterday as Jeff Conine doubled in the tying run in his last action before the Orioles traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Conine almost came to the plate with a chance to win the game in the ninth, but Miguel Tejada beat him to it, singling through the right side to give the Orioles a 5-4 victory and series sweep over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 21,301.

Tejada, who also made two superb defensive plays in the late innings, leaped around with his arms in the air after the victory. But the clubhouse mood was bittersweet, as the Orioles enjoyed a win but said goodbye to a deeply respected teammate.

"I kind of figured he might do something like that," manager Sam Perlozzo said of Conine's last big hit. "I was kind of hoping that he might be the person to put us ahead. It's just a tribute to him, because he's known this was probably a distinct possibility, but he was still able to go out with a level head and help this team."

Orioles officials learned in the seventh inning that the Conine trade had been approved and contemplated pulling the designated hitter out of the game at that juncture. Perlozzo joked that if the dugout phone had rung with news of the trade, he would not have answered it.

"Obviously, I didn't know that it was going to be the last hit or the last at-bat," Conine said of his double. "But you contributed to a win, and that's what I try to do every time I take the field."

After Conine's big hit in the eighth, the Orioles opened the ninth with the top of their order hitting. After Brian Roberts struck out, rookie Nick Markakis jousted with Devil Rays closer Seth McClung for 11 pitches, fouling off 100-mph fastballs before he singled hard to right. Markakis moved to second on Melvin Mora's walk and scored on Tejada's single.

The shortstop beamed about the hit but was actually prouder of his defense.

"I'm more happy with what I did in the field than with hitting, because I know I can hit," Tejada said.

"Today, it was the Tejada show," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

The game did not always seem as if it would end joyously. Teams looking to confound the Orioles' lineup might want to try an unorthodox strategy - throw a young starter with virtually no track record of success in the majors.

Consider J.P. Howell, the 23-year-old left-hander who started yesterday in place of injured Devil Rays ace Scott Kazmir. Howell had thrown 81 big league innings and had a 6.67 ERA coming in.

But he joined Matt Garza, Boof Bonser, Jason Hammel and Jamie Shields in the procession of unseasoned starters who've held the Orioles to two runs or fewer.

"Some of those guys have pitched pretty well," Perlozzo said. "The guy today was just able to keep you off balance and kept the ball down. He had a good changeup, and if he'd have elevated it a little bit, I think we would've got to him."

The Orioles got to Howell in the fourth, when Markakis and Mora led off with singles and Conine drove in Markakis with a sacrifice fly to right. Kevin Millar then tied the game 2-2 with a line single that scored Mora.

Orioles starter Adam Loewen had won three of his previous four starts and had held opponents to three earned runs in those outings. But Loewen showed that he's still an inconsistent rookie yesterday as a punchless Devil Rays lineup that started without its best hitter (Carl Crawford) hammered his pitches around Camden Yards.

Loewen allowed nine hits, three runs and two walks in five innings.

"He kept the ball in the middle of the plate more than he has the last several times," Perlozzo said.

Recent call-up Jim Hoey replaced Loewen and promptly gave up a home run to center by designated hitter Kevin Witt. But the rookie held the Devil Rays at four runs for the next two innings.

Tejada made a world-class play in the seventh, when he sprinted far to his right to field a grounder and threw out Damon Hollins from shallow left field.

"I think that's my best throw, because I throw out of balance and right in the chest," he said. "It's great. I haven't made one of those for a while."

Tejada made another terrific play in the ninth, when he dived to backhand a grounder by Hollins and flipped to second from the ground for a forceout.

"When you see other coaches, other people on the other team and umpires and everybody go wow ... that's what he is capable of," Roberts said.

"He made some great plays in the field, and the one, I don't know how he did that one," Perlozzo said. "Only special players can do those kind of things, and he did it. Then he came through with the big hit to win it for us, so it was a great day for him and us."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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