Melvin is stellar in Orioles' winning score Catcher 5-for-5; team wins, 8-4


TORONTO -- Bob Melvin didn't know it was an audition, but he has spent enough time as an understudy to know that you have to be ready to perform when the opportunity presents itself.

His five-hit performance at SkyDome yesterday helped the Baltimore Orioles score an 8-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and end a six-game losing streak. It also helped his credibility at a time when manager John Oates is trying to put together a set lineup.

"It was a big ballgame for Bob in that we haven't established a starting catcher yet," Oates said. "Bob has done much of the catching lately because Chris Hoiles hasn't felt 100 percent, but we've been waiting for one of them to take charge."

That appears to signal a change in philosophy in the manager's office. Former manager Frank Robinson allowed Melvin and Hoiles to enter the season as equals and did not seem uncomfortable with a platoon situation. Oates favors a more stable lineup, with a more traditional starter-reserve system behind the plate.

"I think the pitching staff prefers it that way," he said. "They can become more accustomed to one guy. When you play a three-game series and you play three different catchers, I don't think the pitchers like it. When one guy plays, you get a communication going between the pitchers and the catcher. But I'm not saying that because he got five hits today that Bob will be the everyday catcher."

Melvin has learned not to worry about playing time. He has played behind someone for much of his career, but not for lack of skill behind the plate. Hoiles has been projected as the Orioles' catcher of the future because of his offensive potential, but Melvin has been the more productive hitter.

He doubled home the go-ahead run in his first at-bat yesterday and homered off Blue Jays rookie Juan Guzman in the fourth. The next three times up, he singled against three different relievers.

The Orioles also got a big swing from center fielder Mike Devereaux, whose three-run homer in the sixth headed off a Toronto comeback after the Blue Jays had cut a four-run deficit to one against starting pitcher Jeff Ballard.

nTC Melvin became the first Orioles hitter to get five hits in a game since Phil Bradley did so on July 9, 1989 in Milwaukee. No Orioles player has gotten more than five hits in a game.

"It was one of those things where it's your day," said Melvin, who raised his average from .235 to .278 in the space of about two hours. "I saw the ball well all day long. I tried to work the outside of the zone a couple of times and the inside a couple of times, but there's a lot of luck involved in something like that."

The Orioles will take a performance like that any way they can get it. Melvin will, too. He came into the game with one extra-base hit this year and had two in his first two at-bats. But he has been swinging the bat well for the past couple of weeks -- hitting safely in eight of his past 10 games.

"The thing that has helped me is I'm getting some hits off right-handed pitching," he said. "so now, I'm getting to face some."

Hoiles has not appeared in a game since he started against the Blue Jays on June 8. He was shaken up in a collision at the plate in a June 5 game against the Minnesota Twins and has been suffering from some stiffness in his upper back.

"I told Bob before the game that he would also catch tomorrow's game," Oates said. "I guess he just forced me to keep that promise."

The Orioles had 12 hits and every member of the starting lineup reached base at least once. Devereaux, who came into the game in an 0-for-16 slump, walked and scored in each of his first two at-bats, his first-inning run giving the club its first lead in the past six games.

Ballard needed the big offensive effort to earn his fourth victory of the year and his first in Toronto. He worked a solid six innings, but nearly squandered an early 5-1 advantage when the Blue Jays struck for three runs in the fourth.

"I think Jeff basically pitched his normal game," Oates said. "He made some very good pitches today. He made two great pitches Joe Carter and gave up a home run and a single. You've got to give him credit."

Ballard ended a string of mediocre performances from the starting rotation. Orioles starters had combined to pitch 14 1/3 innings in the four games since Ballard went six in a losing effort last Sunday.

Guzman has made two starts in the major leagues, both against the Orioles. He lasted 4 2/3 innings in a 6-4 loss at Memorial Stadium on June 7 and gave up five runs on four hits in a four-inning performance yesterday.

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