Unlikely hero for O's

L. Hernandez's single caps 3-run rally in 9th

Orioles 3 Mariners 2

April 07, 2008|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun reporter

Of all the sights that caught the attention of Orioles manager Dave Trembley yesterday, none was more pleasing than Seattle Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre moving to the top step of the visitors' dugout after the eighth inning and extending a hand to starting pitcher Felix Hernandez. It was a casual gesture that easily could have gone unnoticed if it didn't have such a pronounced impact on the game.

Hernandez had gone from brilliant to finished. And so, too, did the Mariners, though they weren't yet aware of it.

Shut out until the ninth, the Orioles completed a three-run rally when light-hitting shortstop Luis Hernandez lined a single off reliever Mark Lowe with two outs to score Jay Payton and provide a 3-2 victory before an announced 19,215 at Camden Yards.

The single came with Hernandez down to his last strike, and it was his first hit in seven at-bats this season. Center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, playing shallow, gave a futile chase as the ball sailed past him to his left, and the Orioles bounded out of the dugout and mobbed Hernandez after he drifted into second base. Trembley embraced him in the congratulatory line that always forms after a win - a line that has appeared after the past four games since an Opening Day loss.

"I was thinking the best time to get a base hit is right now," Hernandez said, "and all of a sudden, I do it."

Lowe replaced left-hander Eric O'Flaherty after Luke Scott collected his third hit, a single that followed Aubrey Huff's RBI grounder. Huff had reduced the Mariners' lead to 2-1, but he also created the second out.

Jay Payton greeted Lowe with a grounder that sneaked past second baseman Jose Lopez and moved pinch runner Adam Jones to third base. Ramon Hernandez walked, and when the ball bounced past catcher Jamie Burke, Jones raced home with the tying run.

Luis Hernandez followed with his single, and the Orioles (4-1) completed a comeback that rarely took place in 2007. They were 4-87 when trailing after eight innings last season, and the Mariners were 75-0 when leading after eight.

"It was nice to see the old ballpark come alive there at the end, wasn't it?" Trembley said.

O'Flaherty started the inning because Mariners closer J.J. Putz is on the disabled list and because Seattle manager John McLaren pulled Felix Hernandez after 97 pitches.

"Mel told me Felix said he wasn't 100 percent," McLaren said. "I said, `We've got three out of four lefties [coming up],' so I made a change."

In the Orioles' dugout, the frustration at being held to five hits and no runs was replaced by the confidence that they were going to win.

"We were happy, bottom line," Payton said. "That guy [Hernandez] was dirty. I don't know that anybody could throw much better than he threw today."

"It was definitely a relief," said Nick Markakis, who led off the ninth with a double and scored on Huff's grounder. "When you have a guy going that good in the game, anytime you get him out of there, it's good."

Said Huff: "Once he came out, we knew we had a chance. And I don't care who it is. The way he was throwing, you could have thrown Nolan Ryan out there and it would have been a relief."

With former Oriole Erik Bedard scratched because of a sore left hip, Felix Hernandez moved up a day and extended his streak of not allowing an earned run to 15 innings. In the process, he out-dueled Jeremy Guthrie, who became the first Orioles starter this season to go seven innings but left the game trailing 2-0 after Richie Sexson's two-out double in the third and Raul Ibanez's solo homer in the sixth.

Relievers Randor Bierd and Dennis Sarfate each pitched a scoreless inning, leaving the Orioles' bullpen with two runs allowed in 18 1/3 . The Mariners' bullpen couldn't match it.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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