O's play spoiler, slip past Tigers

Twins are next contender in line

Mora double in 8th rewards Benson

Orioles 4 Tigers 3

September 22, 2006|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

If nothing else, the Orioles' final homestand of the season will play a pivotal role in the tight race between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins at the top of the American League Central.

Yesterday, they threw the Twins a present, rallying to beat the Tigers, 4-3, on a two-run double by Melvin Mora in the eighth inning. Now they'll try to hand a few gifts back to Detroit in three games this weekend against the Twins.

"We don't have any favorites here," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said with a grin. "Except us."

Actually, the Orioles did their best to offer the game to the Tigers, loading the bases three times without scoring. But a solid outing by Kris Benson kept them in the game, and Mora finally capitalized on a clutch opportunity with his screeching liner down the left-field line off hard-throwing reliever Fernando Rodney (7-4).

"Awesome," second baseman Brian Roberts said of Mora's at-bat. "That's the Melvin we all know. He puts together great at-bats and to come up with that at-bat was huge at that time of the game."

Mora was just glad to succeed against a tough relief corps.

"To face those guys in the bullpen is tough, because they have one of the best bullpens in baseball," Mora said. "I know everybody throws 95 mph or over, and Rodney has a nasty changeup. I was trying to hit the ball up the middle and stay behind the ball."

The most unusual happening came when a raucous group of about 1,000 fans filed out of the left-field stands in protest and walked through the stadium shouting, "Free the Birds," a plea for Peter Angelos to sell the club. They seemed the most excited members of an announced crowd of 17,877 for the rain makeup at Camden Yards.

This weekend's games are the last Orioles contests likely to affect the standings this season, because next week's opponents, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, have clinched and dropped far from playoff contention, respectively.

Benson (11-11) was just happy to get a win in a tight game. He had lasted at least seven innings and surrendered no more than two runs in each of his previous three starts but hadn't won any.

Yesterday, he survived eight innings and worked more efficiently as he went. His biggest mistakes came early.

Magglio Ordonez homered off the left-field foul pole to put the Tigers ahead 2-0 in the first. Curtis Granderson added another run with a homer to lead off the third. That was it for the Tigers' offense.

"I didn't think he had his good stuff early," Perlozzo said of Benson. "And then, by about the fourth, he started to pick his game up a bit, and I thought he got better and better as he went on."

"I fortunately escaped a few things and gave myself a chance to get deep in the ballgame," Benson said. "I got a little tempo going, and I felt a lot better in the last few innings than I did for the first four or five."

The Orioles encountered only frustration at the plate for much of the game.

They first loaded the bases in the third off Tigers starter Nate Robertson, but Nick Markakis flied out to left to end the threat.

Kevin Millar put them on the board in the fourth when he doubled off the base of the wall in right to drive in Miguel Tejada. Fernando Tatis then drove in Ramon Hernandez with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Orioles loaded the bases again with two outs in the fifth, but Corey Patterson flied to center to end the inning.

It wasn't as if Robertson was terrific. He allowed 11 Orioles to reach base in six innings. But the Orioles could never do him in with a clutch hit.

They had the same problem against Detroit's bullpen, loading the bases for a third time in the seventh before left-handed reliever Jamie Walker struck out Patterson to thwart them.

But Roberts led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single, and Rodney hit David Newhan in the knee with a pitch. After Chris Gomez fouled out, Mora followed with his game-winner.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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