Win to remember: Rookie Liz lifts O's

He pitches into 6th for first big league victory

Orioles 5, Twins 3

June 04, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

MINNEAPOLIS -- Orioles rookie right-hander Radhames Liz knew he would be nervous in the first inning of his initial 2008 big league start. He said he's like that when he's pitching at a new level, no matter where it is.

Once he cruised through the first in 17 pitches, getting three outs and allowing his only walk, he knew he belonged.

"When I get to the second inning, I said, `That's mine. I got it,' " said Liz, who pitched into the sixth to earn his first major league victory in the Orioles' 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.

It ended the club's nine-game losing streak against the Twins, who hadn't lost to the Orioles since Sept. 22, 2006, at Camden Yards. The Orioles (28-29) hadn't won at the Metrodome since June 10, 2006.

Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora each homered, and Adam Jones drove in two runs. But it was Liz, who turns 25 on Tuesday, who stole the show, allowing one hit in five innings before running into trouble in the sixth. He threw just 90 pitches - 61 strikes - never throwing more than 17 pitches in an inning. At one point, he retired nine straight.

"He threw more strikes. That was the big difference," catcher Ramon Hernandez said. "He stayed more middle, and he was throwing more strikes early in the count and then he got more aggressive."

Even before Liz's strong performance, Orioles manager Dave Trembley made it clear that Liz wasn't in the big leagues for one spot start.

"This isn't a tryout, this isn't an audition," Trembley said. "He's going to pitch."

And that's great news to Liz, who had a 6.93 ERA in nine games with the Orioles last year after a splendid season at Double-A Bowie that earned him the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.

"I want to stay here, and I am very excited about it," Liz said.

With rookie reliever Jim Johnson winning Monday night against the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles had pitchers earn their first major league victories in consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 1-2, 1978, when Dave Ford and Sammy Stewart beat the Chicago White Sox on back-to-back nights, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Liz was chased with one out in the sixth, after yielding two runs on three consecutive doubles. Reliever Matt Albers worked out of the jam, getting the Twins' Justin Morneau to pop out before striking out Michael Cuddyer.

The Twins scored a run against Albers in the seventh, but Johnson and closer George Sherrill (who earned his 19th save) pitched scoreless innings to preserve the win.

Liz, who walked 23 batters in 24 2/3 innings with the Orioles last year, had walked more than one batter in seven of his first 10 starts this year at Triple-A Norfolk.

"You look at his minor league numbers, and you don't expect him to throw strikes," Cuddyer said. "He did tonight."

Last night, Liz used a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s changeup and a biting curve to keep the Twins off balance. Perhaps his best moment was getting Cuddyer to fly out to end the fourth on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.

Down 2-0 in the count to Cuddyer, Liz kept pounding the strike zone until the Twins right fielder finally hit a 91 mph fastball to center.

"He didn't give in, and he didn't try to trick him," Trembley said. "I thought that was probably one of the key at-bats in the game there. ... He showed me something."

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