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For the Orioles, it was a return to a kinder, gentler, more simple baseball time as they journeyed to Cooperstown for the annual Hall of Fame exhibition game yesterday. They won, 13-7, against Toronto. That didn't matter. An O's pitching prospect, Brandon Erbe, of Owings Mills, struck out six. And that mattered a little, especially to Erbe and family members who went there to watch. And a kid catcher in the O's system, Brian Bock, hit two homers, and any offensive production from someone in a Baltimore uniform deserves attention these days.

But what really mattered is that there were no squandered leads, no teammates bickering and no talk of the manager getting canned. And maybe that's what this team needed as it starts a home stand tonight against the Blue Jays.

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* In the Bronx, where the tension over Joe Torre's job is palpable and his tenure appears to be a series-to-series thing, the Yankees' manager got a reprieve as New York bounced the Red Sox, 6-2, and trimmed Boston's lead in the AL East to under double digits, 9 1/2 games.

A-Rod drilled his third home run in as many games, raising his total to 18, a season's worth of production for a lot of players. Jason Giambi, who dared to speak an obvious truth in saying that plenty of folks in baseball were aware of steroid use and should apologize (and is being investigated by MLB for doing so), also homered.

* Just to show that the Orioles don't have the corner on blown leads, the Washington Nationals fell, 8-7, to Cincinnati after being ahead, 6-0. But it took eight innings to unfold and, frankly, for the Nats, it's not to be unexpected. They're not the team with the $42-million bullpen.

* And the Cleveland Cavaliers had a chance to grab the NBA Eastern Conference finals lead on the road but, in a typical Eastern Conference-type game, came up a three-point-shot attempt shy, losing, 79-76, to Detroit.

The interesting moment came at this point: The Pistons were up by two, the clock was ticking down to six seconds and the Cavs' LeBron James was driving toward the basket with the Detroit defense collapsing on him.

James didn't challenge but instead passed the ball to the right corner, where Donyell Marshall, the author of six 3s against the Nets in the previous game, waited all alone. Marshall missed, just barely. Pistons rebound. Game over.

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