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Gomez, Eichhorn lift Orioles, 9-3


Here, one game shy of the halfway point, the Orioles finally are matching all the preseason hype and two of their least-hyped players are among the biggest reasons.

Coming out of spring training, Leo Gomez was the 25th man on the roster, Mark Eichhorn the ninth man on the pitching staff. They continued to be nowhere men in April.

Where would the Orioles be without them now? Nowhere. At least not in second place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, that much is certain.

Gomez and Eichhorn were central figures in an Orioles victory last night at Camden Yards, where 47,336 watched the home team defeat the Seattle Mariners, 9-3, in the opener of a three-game series.

Gomez drove in a run with each of his three hits, two of them home runs. He's hitting .309 with 13 home runs, 46 RBIs and a club-high .589 slugging percentage. All of the home runs and all but two of the RBIs have come since April 27.

Eichhorn pitched four shutout innings in relief of winning pitcher Sid Fernandez (5-4, 4.50) to earn his first save and lower his earned run average to 1.59.

"He's been at least sensational," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "I don't know what the next level is from sensational, but whatever it is, he's been it."

In his past 42 2/3 innings, Eichhorn has allowed two earned runs. That's two earned runs in 23 appearances covering two months.

"All anybody ever talked about in the preseason was our four free agents," said Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles, referring to Fernandez, Lee Smith, Rafael Palmeiro and Chris Sabo. "Eichhorn has done as much as any one of them."

So, for that matter, has Gomez since becoming an everyday player nearly four weeks into the season.

He has four home runs in four games since his status as a regular became an issue when Mike Devereaux came off of the disabled list.

Sabo was in right field yesterday. Devereaux was not in the lineup, and might have a hard time finding playing time against right-handed pitchers.

"Right now, I feel relaxed, I feel confident," Gomez said.

That confidence translates to every phase of Gomez's game, according to his manager.

"I think the thing most people are overlooking is how well he's playing defensively," Oates said. "Everyone notices he's hitting .300, hitting a lot of home runs and driving in a lot of runs. What nobody talks about is his defense. He has much more range this year. There's no doubt his confidence has had something to do with that. The more confident you are, the more live your body, the easier it is to play."

Gomez agreed.

"Sometimes when you are in a slump, you are down when you go out there to play third base," he said. "Right now, I feel good when I go to third base."

Gomez and Eichhorn led the way, but were not alone in hammering the Mariners.

Leadoff hitter Brady Anderson hit run-scoring doubles in the second and fourth innings and reached base three times. He has five hits, three for extra bases, in the two games following his first day off of the season.

Hoiles contributed his team-best 16th home run and has eight home runs in his past 17 games.

Second baseman Mark McLemore homered, stole a base, scored two runs, drove in two and contributed a takeout slide for the highlight films. McLemore's two-run home run to center was off of Goose Gossage in the eighth, two batters after Gomez had cleared the fence in left-center.

Gomez, an equal opportunity basher, homered to center off of Seattle starter and loser Chris Bosio (3-10, 4.20) leading off the sixth.

Hoiles, the next batter up, ducked away from a 1-1 pitch that sailed near his head.

The next inning, a pitch got away from Eichhorn and hit Keith Mitchell in the elbow.

As Bosio took the mound for the bottom of the seventh, three umpires converged on him and he lost it, shouting obscenities as teammates held him back. No official warning about throwing at hitters was issued to both benches until the end of Bosio's tirade.

Other than Mike Blowers' night -- he drove a two-run single off of Fernandez in the third and homered off him with the bases empty in the fifth -- the Bosio fit qualified as a highlight for the Mariners.

Seattle second baseman Rich Amaral, whose glove has been the one of the Orioles' best friends this season, was charged with two errors on one play in the three-run second inning.

McLemore came to the plate with runners on first and second and one out and hit a grounder to Amaral.

Attempting to tag Gomez on his way to second base, Amaral dropped the ball.

Amaral then attempted to throw the ball to second but it sailed into the outfield as Harold Baines trotted home. Amaral has committed four errors in four games this season at Camden Yards.

Seattle manager Lou Piniella replaced Amaral at second base with Luis Sojo.

"I've never done that to a player," Piniella said of removing Amaral in mid-game.

Piniella has let general manager Woody Woodward know he wants him to call up rookie Alex Rodriguez from Double-A Jacksonville, play him at shortstop and move Felix Fermin to second.

Strangely, Woodward hasn't obliged Piniella's wishes.

Amaral has played in only 65 of the Mariners' 81 games, yet he leads the American League with 15 errors.

The Mariners have allowed 57 unearned runs in 81 games. By way of comparison, the Orioles have allowed 11 unearned runs.

Thanks in part to three unearned runs, Fernandez had a cushion with which to work.

He allowed three runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings in his first start since spending 15 days on the disabled list with a strained rib-cage muscle.

"I was rusty," Fernandez said. "Real rusty. I felt fine physically, but mechanically I didn't feel good. This game is all timing and rhythm and when you don't have it it's tough to feel good."

The Orioles moved to a season-high 12 games over .500, which was enough to make everyone in winning clubhouse feel good about their Fourth of July.


Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mariners' Jim Converse (0-0, 9.42) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (2-6, 5.42)

Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, not including bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.


The Orioles have hit 13 home runs in their past four games. Here is a game-by-game look at who has supplied the power:

Date .. .. .. .. ..Opponent .. .. .. .. ..Players

7/1 .. .. .. .. .. .Angels .. .. .. ..Hammonds, 2

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Palmeiro

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Ripken

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Gomez

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Hoiles

7/2 .. .. .. .. .. .Angels .. .. .. .. .. ...none

7/3 .. .. .. .. .. .Angels .. .. .. .. .. .Ripken

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .Gomez

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Hoiles

7/4 .. .. .. .. .. .Mariners .. .. .. ...Gomez, 2

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Hoiles

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..McLemore

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