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Fernando reigns Orioles pour it on, 7-0 2-hitter, support at last bring first win since '90

THE BALTIMORE SUN

No doubt, they were celebrating in the streets of Navajoa Mexico, last night, when word arrived that favorite son Fernando Valenzuela was on top of the world again.

They certainly were celebrating at Camden Yards, where Valenzuela pitched a game that was reminiscent of his glorious past and the Orioles scored a rain-shortened 7-0 victory over Cleveland that gave him his first win since Sept. 14, 1990.

Maybe it was not Fernandomania, but it was an incredible simulation. Valenzuela pitched a two-hit, eight-inning shutout -- finishing his amazing performance to the accompaniment of thunderclaps and a series of near-thunderous ovations from the crowd of 43,710.

His gem had to be cut short when thundershowers forced the umpires to call for the tarp after Valenzuela had retired the Indians in the eighth, but nothing could detract from a night that had been in the making since he signed with the Orioles on Feb. 27.

There were times when it seemed like his comeback was not going to take. He was hammered in his first Orioles start April 13 and did not pitch particularly well his second time out. But in what may have been a make-or-break performance, he bounced back with a solid seven innings May 1 and has been more effective in each outing since. The victory improved his record to 1-3 and dropped his ERA to 3.72.

"He showed us in spring training what he was capable of," manager Johnny Oates said. "The more he pitches, the better he looks and the more deceptive he is. He's got it all going for him right now."

"I said facetiously in spring training that lightning has been known to strike twice in the same place. We had [Rick] Sutcliffe last year and maybe Fernando can do the same thing for us this year. From what we've seen the last four outings, Fernando Valenzuela can pitch in any league he wants."

Valenzuela benefited from the Orioles' most productive offensive performance since the club scored 12 runs against Kansas City on April 30, but it wasn't necessary. He was nearly unhittable, pitching his 30th career shutout and his first since he threw a no-hitter against St. Louis on June 29, 1990.

"It's a win for me, but I think this is bigger for the team," Valenzuela said. "We needed that one. That was the Orioles I know. We had a couple of big innings. We scored some runs. I feel really good about that."

Perhaps they also will celebrate in the village of Changuinola, Panama, when word arrives that hometown hero Sherman Obando is doing quite well in his first major-league season. He contributed three hits and two RBI to one of the few truly uplifting evenings at Oriole Park this year.

The Orioles scored three times in the third inning -- two of them on a double by Obando -- to provide all the offensive help Valenzuela would need to even the four-game series at a game apiece. The club batted around a second time to score four times in the seventh inning and inadvertently may have prevented the game from going the distance.

Valenzuela had given up just one hit through the first seven innings, but sat for an extended period while his teammates were assuring themselves of only their second victory in the past seven games. He returned to give up a leadoff double in the eighth before retiring the last three batters in order.

"I tried to keep the ball in on the hands of the power hitters," he said. "I think the last few games I've had good command of all my stuff. That's the difference. I used all my stuff and it was working pretty good."

The Orioles averted an unprecedented fourth straight home shutout when they broke through for three runs against Indians starter Matt Young in the third inning. The club had been blanked in the final two games of the previous homestand and were shut out on Monday night.

The last and only other time that had happened was in 1957, when the Indians and Chicago White Sox combined on three shutouts in a row at Memorial Stadium.

Young didn't figure to add to the string. He came into the game with an 0-1 record and a 6.88 ERA in four previous starts, and opposing hitters were batting a healthy .361 against him. But he extended the Orioles' scoreless innings streak at home to 29 before they batted around to take the lead in the third.

Brady Anderson started the rally with a soft, one-out single to right and Harold Reynolds dropped a perfect bunt single down )) the third-base line. Mark McLemore, who has been one of the club's most timely hitters, followed with a sharp single to right, but Anderson had to hold at third.

Cal Ripken came up with a chance to collect a handful of RBI, but he settled for a bases-loaded walk that had the twofold effect of putting the Orioles on top and prompting an argument that led to the ejection of Indians manager Mike Hargrove.

Young apparently felt that home-plate umpire Chuck Meriwether robbed him on a potential strikeout pitch. Hargrove was thrown out of the game for articulating that position during a visit to the mound.

Obando came up one out later and hit a screaming line drive off the left-field fence that drove home two runs and came very close to being the first home run -- not to mention grand slam -- of his major-league career.

Those three runs represented the most runs the Orioles had scored in a game at Camden Yards since a 5-4 victory over Kansas City on May 2. Valenzuela seemed determined to make them stand up.

He had been vulnerable to early-inning runs in each of his first five starts, but he retired the first seven batters he faced and pitched to just two batters over the minimum for the first six innings.

It was his fourth consecutive solid outing, but he previously had been unable to overcome the poor run support that has become a chronic problem for everyone in the Orioles' starting rotation. Valenzuela had struggled in his first two starts, but the club's patience has been rewarded with a string of 30 2/3 innings in which he has given up just four runs. That works out to an ERA of 1.17 since a fluky three-run first inning in his May 1 start against the Royals.

"I know that in my first two games, I didn't do very good," Valenzuela said. "I think the decision to pitch in the minors helped me a lot."

Obando also continues to justify the team's decision to take a chance on him in the Rule V draft. He has hit safely in six of his

past eight games and his 3-for-3 performance raised his average to an impressive .341.

FINALLY!

Last night the Orioles scored more than three runs for the first time since their 4-3 victory over Toronto on May 9:

Date .... Opponent ........ Result

5/10 .... Boston ......... Won, 2-1

5/11 .... Boston ......... Lost, 4-0

5/12 .... Boston ......... Lost, 2-0

5/14 .... Detroit ........ Lost, 4-3

5/15 .... Detroit ........ Lost, 5-3

5/16 .... Detroit ........ Won, 3-2

5/17 .... Cleveland ...... Lost, 2-0

5/18 .... Cleveland ...... Won, 7-0

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