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Linton-Rhodes duel puts fresh face on AL East race


TORONTO -- Arthur Rhodes vaguely remembers pitching against Doug Linton earlier this year, when both were in the International League.

"Yeah, I pitched against him [for Rochester] when he was at Syracuse," said the Orioles left-hander. But he couldn't recall any of the particulars.

And Linton wasn't even sure the two had ever pitched in the same game. "I've seen him [Rhodes] before, but I really don't know if I faced him," he said.

Chances are that both will remember a lot more about their duel here yesterday afternoon.

Linton, who has the most professional experience (he was 54-40 in the minor leagues), was making his first major-league start. Rhodes, who has more exposure under the big tent, was pitching in his biggest game since his debut a year ago -- and perhaps passing his biggest test as well.

"It was the battle of the century just to keep us in the game," said Rhodes, who came away the loser when the Toronto Blue Jays scored twice in the eighth inning to beat the Orioles, 4-2.

That, of course, is a mild overstatement, but the duel between Rhodes and Linton was an impressive one. Rhodes struck out seven and walked one in seven-plus innings. Linton allowed only three hits in eight innings and retired 15 in a row before allowing the tying run on a double by Cal Ripken and a sacrifice fly by Randy Milligan in the seventh.

Afterward, the 26-year-old right-hander was surprisingly calm for guy who had just won his first big-league game. "It was a long time coming," said Linton (1-1), whose career was interrupted by shoulder surgery five years ago.

"And they say the toughest part is staying here. It's not like I can just say 'whoosh. . . I've made it,' " said Linton.

In the other clubhouse, Rhodes (4-2) was drawing rave reviews about his latest performance, but without any real satisfaction. "From the first pitch, I just wanted to keep us in the game, and I was able to do that while I was in there," said Rhodes. "I feel real comfortable now."

From the scatter-armed rookie he was a year ago, Rhodes has progressed to where he no longer creates anxiety attacks -- for himself, his teammates or his manager.

"It used to be that you went into the game thinking 'I hope he throws enough strikes to get some people out,' " said Oates. "Now it doesn't even enter my mind that he's not going to throw the ball over the plate.

"He pitched out of a tough jam in the seventh inning [men on second and third with one out]," said Oates. "He had the eighth and ninth hitters up there, but you still have to make the pitches.

"That's a tough situation with the infield in -- you've got to get a strikeout, pop fly or a ground ball hit right at somebody. He made some good pitches in that spot."

An inning later, though, Rhodes just missed with what would've been a great 0-and-2 pitch to Roberto Alomar, and ended up taking a tough loss. Alomar's double on the next pitch drove in Devon White with the tie-breaking run and sent Rhodes packing.

"I thought he had good life to his ball today," said Oates. "We've always known he could throw hard, but to see him throw like that with control is exciting."

Linton wasn't quite as exciting but, unfortunately for the Orioles, he was just a little more effective than Rhodes. In the eight innings he worked, Linton faced only 27 batters, three over the minimum.

Other than a home run by Glenn Davis in the second inning, and Ripken's tour of the bases in the seventh, he did not allow a runner past first base.

Linton's first major-league win, which enabled the Blue Jays to retain sole possession of first place, might not have been something to get excited about, but it was certainly something to remember. In years to come he'll no doubt recall that it was Arthur Rhodes who took the loss.

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