Jose Mercedes had come full circle this season, forming another black hole that doubled as the fifth slot in the Orioles' rotation. He earned a job there out of spring training, was moved to the bullpen and became a starter again earlier this month.
This had been the place, at the end of the rotation, where games and opportunities were lost. But Mercedes changed that last night, giving the Orioles seven quality innings in a 5-3 victory over the Florida Marlins before 37,591 at Camden Yards.
Mike Timlin picked up his fourth save in as many tries and his 11th of the season, cementing his claim as the closer and improving the Orioles' record to 40-51. Delino DeShields and Brady Anderson homered in support of Mercedes (4-4), whose last win in the rotation came April 22 in Oakland. It also was the last time a fifth starter had been victorious.
DeShields staked the Orioles to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when he connected off Marlins pitcher Reid Cornelius after Mike Bordick had reached on a fielder's choice. It was DeShields' second homer in two games after being held down since May 7.
He also delivered the tying run in the third inning with a sacrifice fly, giving him six RBIs in the last two games. Bothered by neck pain and a sore thigh muscle, DeShields hadn't driven in a run since June 30 before bingeing against the Marlins.
Mercedes gave the Orioles his longest outing of the season, surpassing the six innings he turned in during a 10-9 loss in Minnesota April 14. He was lifted after seven innings with the Orioles ahead, 4-3. He allowed seven hits, only two after the third, walked none and struck out two.
On the verge of racking up another high pitch count, Mercedes became more economical after the third inning. He had thrown 82 after six innings, and needed only eight to complete the seventh.
It had been nine days since Mercedes' last appearance, the better to forget.
Given another chance in the rotation, he gave up nine runs (six earned) in three innings in Philadelphia, throwing 80 pitches before manager Mike Hargrove went to his bullpen. The first inning was a minefield and Mercedes kept taking the wrong steps, allowing five runs after being handed a 2-0 lead.
The footing became treacherous again last night, when the Marlins used a double and two-out error to create a first-inning rally. This time, Mercedes maintained order by getting Mike Lowell to hit into a force at second.
More trouble arrived in the third inning when Luis Castillo reached on an infield hit after falling behind 0-2, and Kotsay lined a single up the middle. Cliff Floyd drove in Castillo with a single into center field, and Preston Wilson drilled a two-run double.
Sitting in the dugout before the game, Hargrove said he was looking for ways to get relievers Gabe Molina and Darren Holmes some work. This seemed like the right time, with Molina warming in the bullpen as Mercedes struggled.
He wouldn't be needed. Mercedes got the last two outs, stranding a runner on third, and the Orioles gave him the lead back on DeShields' fly ball and a two-out single by Albert Belle that produced his 72nd RBI.
In keeping with a pattern that began four nights earlier, the Orioles had another runner thrown out when Belle was cut down by left fielder Mark Smith while going for a double.
The Orioles exacted a little revenge in the sixth when left fielder B. J. Surhoff ran down Lowell's single down the line and threw him out at second. Catcher Charles Johnson had ended the fifth inning by throwing out Kotsay attempting to steal.
Most of the Orioles were getting their first look at Cornelius, 30, who pitched for the Montreal Expos and New York Mets in 1995 and spent the majority of the next four seasons in the minors. Mark Lewis was 2-for-4 with an RBI against him, and Jeff Conine was 0-for-1. Neither player was in the lineup last night.
Cornelius escaped a fourth-inning jam, which began with two outs, when he struck out rookie Ivanon Coffie to strand Harold Baines and Johnson. Belle almost took him deep leading off the sixth, but a strong wind knocked down the ball at the warning track in left-center field.
It would have been Belle's first home run since June 29, when he connected off Boston's Tim Wakefield. He has gone 61 at-bats without one, but still ranks second on the club with 18.
Taking aim at right-center field, Anderson homered in the eighth to give the Orioles a 5-3 lead after Mike Trombley had gotten the last out in the top of the inning to strand the tying run.