ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It's one thing to lose to an expansion team. It's even worse to have the guys you donated do the heavy lifting.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' gain became the Orioles' pain yesterday, when Baltimore exiles Esteban Yan and Aaron Ledesma made significant contributions to their new team's 4-3 win at Tropicana Field. Yan gained the decision with two shutout innings in middle relief. Starting at second base, Ledesma reached base in each of three plate appearances and contributed a stolen base to go with his two hits. The combo only further irritated an organization rubbed raw by last November's process.
"I got to see a bunch of old friends, guys I played with, guys I learned from. But on a competitive level, it was just another team I wanted to beat," Ledesma said.
Making his ninth start, Ledesma handled five chances at second base and assisted on the game's final out against pinch hitter Harold Baines.
Yan (3-0) continued his understated campaign as one of the top rookie pitchers in the American League.
Still only 23, the beefy Yan held the Orioles scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings, then benefited from Quinton McCracken's tiebreaking home run in the bottom of the eighth. Unlike the scatter-armed right-hander who walked seven in 9 2/3 rough innings in Baltimore last season, Yan has become a hard-throwing terror for his new team.
He needed only 28 pitches, 19 of them strikes, to get through eight hitters. Chris Hoiles and Jeff Reboulet singled off him with one out in the seventh, but were stranded when he struck out Jeffrey Hammonds looking and got B. J. Surhoff to ground to second.
"Yan is a tremendous pitcher. He's on the verge of finding his niche," said Devil Rays closer Roberto Hernandez, who pitched the ninth inning for his third save. "He doesn't shy away from competition. He wants to be there every time. He wants the ball. He's always up. He's never down on himself."
Yan hasn't had much reason to be down on himself. He began the season by throwing 14 1/3 scoreless innings and worked eight hitless innings for his two wins.
"It's better for me here," he said. "I have more of a chance to throw. It's more of an opportunity for me."
The Orioles expected to lose Yan during the draft, but in a very different way. General manager Pat Gillick had brokered a deal that would have sent Yan to the Florida Marlins for pitcher Al Leiter. However, the trade unraveled when Yan was exposed to the draft and the Devil Rays grabbed him with the 18th overall pick.
Ledesma's loss resulted from a miscalculation. The Orioles believed both expansion teams would use the last of three rounds to stock up on higher-priced veterans. As a result, Ledesma, who batted .352 in 88 at-bats in Baltimore last season, was exposed for the entire selection. When Ledesma was lost, Gillick admitted as much surprise as regret.
For Ledesma, now hitting .343 in 35 at-bats, initial surprise has been followed by absolutely no regret.
"I'm having a great time. This team is filled with a bunch of good guys. I'm in the big leagues. I couldn't ask for anything more," he said.
Right now, the Orioles could use another middle reliever and a hot-hitting spare infielder. Yesterday only irritated the sore.
Pub Date: 5/11/98