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O's turn on power, light up Tigers 8-1 victory is built on 3 two-run homers, Key's strong 6 innings; Left-hander improves to 9-1; East lead is 8 games after 9th win in past 11

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DETROIT -- The Orioles and Detroit Tigers got together last night for some vintage ball, 1996 style. Even nostalgia is breaking the Orioles' way.

For at least one game, the new-and-improved, better-rounded Orioles resembled the heavy-lifting, bullpen-breaking team of last season, minus the dicey pitching and whiny designated hitter.

The Tigers, acclaimed as the game's most improved team this season, reverted to Team Pinata, surrendering extra-base hits by the gross and looking up from a six-run deficit before their second at-bat.

So give this one to the throwback Orioles, 8-1. Tigers starter Brian Moehler certainly did, as the Orioles pounded him for seven hits, including three two-run homers, in 1 2/3 innings.

Before the Orioles' second trip through the order, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro had homered. The 13 hitters who faced Moehler accumulated 18 total bases, five extra-base hits and six runs. The early pounding left Jimmy Key to cruise to his ninth win in 10 decisions.

"This team scores a lot of runs. They scored a lot of runs last year. They're going to score a lot this year," Key said. "We kind of got in a lull for a little while. Now it seems like we're lighting it up again. Like I say, you ride a wave as long as you can.

"Hitters feed off of other hitters. You get a few guys hot and everybody else starts hitting. It's the same way with pitchers. This is a fun team to watch."

The Orioles (34-15) won their ninth straight against the Tigers, tying a franchise record, moved 19 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 5, 1992, and tied the best 49-game start in franchise history, set in 1969 and 1970.

Their ninth win in the past 11 games bumped their major-league-best road record to 17-8 and gave them an eight-game lead in the American League East. The Orioles also continued an offensive binge that has brought them 40 runs in their past five games. It is the club's most explosive five-game span this season.

"I think when the weather gets better, we'll start hitting, but offense isn't what we need to be worried about," Palmeiro said. "Pitching is the most important thing. Pitching and defense. So far, we've been getting plenty of both."

If the Orioles were looking for offensive symbolism, last night was perfect. The power of Alomar and Anderson had been diminished by injuries, and Palmeiro has waited for the weather to turn.

There was no waiting against Moehler. Anderson walked to begin the game and trotted home when Alomar pulled Moehler's first pitch off the facing along the right-field roof for a 2-0 lead.

Suddenly masters of the monster inning, the Orioles put together a four-run, five-hit second inning. Tony Tarasco led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch, then scored on Anderson's sixth home run. Anderson has used the road trip to revitalize his run-production numbers. He has eight RBIs and two home runs in the six games, demonstrating greater flexibility at the plate.

Rather than drop the rally at two runs, Alomar singled and Palmeiro immediately followed with another two-run shot, this into the upper deck in right field. The homer was Palmeiro's third of the road trip.

Cal Ripken added further historical significance to a mostly bland night. His second-inning double tied the franchise record for total bases (4,270) held by Brooks Robinson.

Ahead 6-0, Key found the rhythm that proved so elusive in his previous start, a 6-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Saturday. The Tigers managed runners in each of the first six innings but were unable to bunch hits.

Through five innings, Key induced 11 ground-ball outs and one strikeout. The controlled cruise was a welcome departure from his previous four starts in which he had received only 13 runs of support. (He received 40 runs in his first six starts.)

And Tiger Stadium has rarely been so kind. Key entered with a 12-13 lifetime record against the Tigers, including 4-7 at Tiger Stadium despite a 3.15 ERA.

The Tigers' only run came in the third inning, when Jody Reed singled and stole second. After advancing on Phil Nevin's groundout, Reed scored when Key unleashed only his second wild pitch of the season. Key left after six innings in which he allowed one run and six hits. His ERA fell to 2.30.

At less-than-peak efficiency, Key needed 119 pitches to get through the start. It was the second-most pitches by an Orioles starter this year.

Key said he had been worried about a letdown, playing the Tigers after the two-game sweep of the Yankees.

"I was concerned about it a little bit, because having been on a lot of teams that have come out of series like that, it [complacency] can show up," he said. "But our players showed they're approaching every game the same way. I didn't think we got up that much for New York. They just got up and played like they did here. That's a good sign."

Tuesday's winner, Shawn Boskie, continued his campaign for re-entry into the starting rotation by following Key and pitching three scoreless innings. He allowed one hit for his first professional save, striking out four.

Orioles today

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Tiger Stadium, Detroit

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-1, 4.26) vs. Tigers' Tim Pugh (1-1, 5.00)

Supporting cast

Jimmy Key leads the Orioles with a 9-1 record, but the hitters also have done their part, scoring 71 runs in his 11 starts, an average of 6.5 per game:

Date, Opp., Runs, Result, Key

4/2, K.C., 4, W, 4-2, W

4/7, K.C., 5, L, 6-5, ND

4/13, Tex., 9, W, 9-0, W

4/20, Bos., 11, W, 11-1, W

4/26, Bos., 14, W,14-5, W

5/2, Oak., 7, W,7-1, W

5/7, Ana., 3, W,3-0, W

5/12, Oak., 5, W,5-1, W

5/17, Sea., 4, W,4-3, W

5/23, Cle., 1, L, 6-1, L

5/29, Det., 8, W, 8-1, W

Pub Date: 5/29/97

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