Orioles' steady jabs KO Indians


CLEVELAND -- Neither economical nor stylish, the Orioles' marathon 8-6 win over the Cleveland Indians yesterday at Jacobs Field at least revealed a young team determined and talented enough to swing and sometimes outrun its mistakes.

Ending an eight-game losing streak at Jacobs Field that extended to 1998, the Orioles overcame a 2-0 deficit with eight runs after the fifth inning to find justice for starting pitcher Pat Rapp (7-10) and more evidence that a less intimidating lineup can compensate with timing.

By discarding their reliance on power at a cost of sluggish defense, the Orioles are no longer hostage to the home run. The league's streakiest team through July has not had a winning or losing run of more than two games since the late July purge of Harold Baines, B. J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Charles Johnson and Will Clark. Manager Mike Hargrove has since managed more aggressively and been rewarded with a more opportunistic offense.

No longer are they hostage to wild swings. The Orioles manufactured 12 streaks of four or more in their first 106 games. They have none since.

"This offense doesn't have the power the other offense did and obviously it doesn't have the experience the other offense did. But there are so many more ways for us to score runs than we could have or would have with the other offense," said Hargrove. "Talent dictates what game you're logically able to play.

"This type of offense has to be opportunistic to be successful and it has so far. We've been aggressive and made things happen. We've run into outs, sure. But I'd rather run into outs than sit back and play it safe all the time and not give yourself a chance to win."

Rookie closer Ryan Kohlmeier survived a harrowing ninth inning for his eighth save in as many chances. He retired Jim Thome and David Segui to end the game with the tying run at second base. The bunt is no longer merely a four-letter word within this attack. Playing for one run has become a means of survival rather than theory left behind in spring training.

"With this offense we can create more things with speed. That makes a big difference. Instead of letting things happen, we're making things happen now," said third baseman Jeff Conine after his wild ride of a game.

Yesterday's lineup found room for center fielder Eugene Kingsale, catcher Fernando Lunar and second baseman Jerry Hairston. Lunar began the four-run seventh by being hit by a pitch. Kingsale attempted to bunt. Hairston followed Brady Anderson's one-out single with one of his own to load the bases.

"The other offense we had needed to put together four or five hits to score one or two runs. This offense doesn't have to do that," said Hargrove. "We get a walk, a stolen base, get him over, get him in without knocking a ball out of the infield. It's not pretty. But we can."

There was little pretty about yesterday's game, which contained more plot twists than a suspense novel and took about as long to finish. Indians starting pitcher Bartolo Colon looked to have the Orioles under control but left after five innings because of shoulder stiffness. The Orioles then jumped five relievers for seven runs in four innings.

"It looked like he was having trouble," observed Rapp. "He was taking a long time between pitches and came off after the first inning holding his arm. I was telling myself to just stay out there long enough to get to their bullpen."

The win was Rapp's first since July 21 and only the fifth by an Orioles starting pitcher other than Jose Mercedes since Aug. 1. It represented justice for a pitcher who not only overcame inconsistent defense but has endured a hellish past four weeks. The death of his father two weeks ago preceded his wife's grandmother undergoing heart surgery and contracting pneumonia. Rapp's 9-year-old son, Ryan, underwent an emergency appendectomy on Friday.

"It's gotten so I'm afraid to pick up the phone," Rapp said.

After reflecting on his win, Rapp couldn't help but pause to think of his dad. His mother has yet to erase James Rapp's voice from her answering machine.

And there are days when Rapp finds himself on the road alone that he will call home as many as 10 times to hear his father answer.

Rapp was prepared to pitch yesterday's seventh inning until the game turned and Hargrove imported left-hander Buddy Groom.

Five consecutive hits against relievers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed blew open a four-run seventh inning that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead.

The telling rally was instructive for several reasons.

It began with Karsay (4-7) hitting Lunar to open the inning and was followed by four consecutive singles, including a misplay by shortstop Omar Vizquel on what appeared a possible inning-ending double-play ball, before Conine doubled off the left-field wall. The breakout marked only the second time since Aug. 24 the Orioles have put together a four-run inning.

Such an offense is usually crushed by poor fundamentals and squandered opportunities. But the Orioles -- 15-16 since July 31 -- won in spite of grounding into three double plays in the first four innings, twice failing to execute bunts and once running into an out at third base.

Vizquel's inability to stop Delino DeShields' bases-loaded grounder with one out proved pivotal.

Kingsale and Anderson scored on what was ruled a hit, giving the Orioles a 4-3 lead. Albert Belle followed with a single off Reed for his 97th RBI and a two-run lead. Conine then atoned what had been a brutal day consisting of two double-play grounders and a fielding error by doubling off the scoreboard in left field.

Conine's bizarre day featured two errors, two doubles and two RBIs. His defensive mistakes allowed two unearned runs and almost allowed the Indians to tie the game in the ninth inning. His doubles provided leads of 6-3 and 7-5.

"At least I knocked in as many as I let in," Conine said.

"You can't give extra outs to a team like the Indians. If you do, you saw what happened today," Hargrove said, adding that his novice third baseman was at least attempting the proper play.

Orioles today

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jay Spurgeon (1-0, 2.45) vs. Indians' Steve Woodard (1-2, 5.72)

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