ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There isn't much reason for Fernando Lunar to check the lineup card when entering the Orioles' clubhouse, unless overcome by idle curiosity or choosing to brush up on his reading. Chances are he'll be listed near the bottom, among the reserves.
Sometimes, it's worth taking a glance.
When manager Mike Hargrove broke out his 32nd different lineup in 35 games last night, Lunar was in it. It might have seemed insignificant at the time, but not after Lunar began an eighth-inning rally with a single and scored the go-ahead run in a 9-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field, capping his most productive game as an Oriole.
Making his third start, Lunar provided a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning with a two-run double off Paul Wilson. The at-bat gave Lunar more RBIs (four) than hits (three), crooked numbers that he fixed in the eighth inning.
Lunar, who reached base four times, singled to left and moved to third when Fred McGriff dropped a throw from reliever Rusty Meacham on a bunt by Jerry Hairston. He broke late on a suicide-squeeze bunt by Mike Bordick, but still scored easily as the throw went to first.
A double by Delino DeShields brought in an insurance run and helped make a winner of left-hander B.J. Ryan (1-0), who got the last two outs in the seventh inning to keep the game tied. Ryan Kohlmeier extended his streak of scoreless appearances to five while finishing up the ninth.
"You have to make adjustments when you don't play every day," said Lunar, the only active player left among the three obtained from the Atlanta Braves last July for B. J. Surhoff. "I try the best I can. I work hard every day. I feel confident."
Said Hargrove: "He keeps himself ready. That says a lot about his character."
A run-scoring single by Greg Myers and a bases-loaded walk to Bordick in the ninth completed another offensive surge. The Orioles have scored 17 runs in the past two games, both times starting slow before building speed.
On Wednesday, they sent 10 batters to the plate in the same inning for the first time. They were a little more subdued last night, getting all three of their hits in the fourth inning until Jeff Conine singled in the seventh, but kept putting runners on base. They rarely looked this busy in April
"I take a lot of satisfaction out of the fact we work really hard on our hitting," Hargrove said. "We put in a lot of hours in the cages and on the field. To see guys come through with two-out base hits with people in scoring position, I don't care if my sister's throwing against us, it's not easy to do."
Tampa Bay's starter, Wilson, threw 91 pitches in his first five innings, only 44 for strikes. He nailed three batters in the first two innings, and allowed a run in the second without giving up a hit.
Manager Hal McRae finally pulled the plug in the seventh after the first two batters reached in a 4-4 tie. Wilson allowed five runs and walked six, and only 53 of his 109 pitches were strikes.
Orioles starter Pat Hentgen was sharp by comparison. He walked six in six innings, more than in any other start this season, and tallied only 55 strikes among 103 pitches. He also failed to strike out a batter for the first time this year.
"Both clubs struggled with their pitching," Hargrove said. "We were able to do a little more at the plate. We've lost some games when we've pitched a lot better than this one, so I'll take it."
The Devil Rays bunched together three hits in the first inning, when they scored twice, but didn't get another until Greg Vaughn singled leading off the sixth and later scored the tying run on a groundout. Hentgen retired nine of 10 after walking Russ Johnson and Ben Grieve to open the third, with his errant pickoff throw setting up a sacrifice fly by Fred McGriff and a 3-1 lead.
Positioned for the win with a 5-4 lead, Hentgen received his fourth no-decision when rookie Chad Paronto gave up the tying run after facing only three batters in the seventh and surrendering doubles to Gerald Williams and Ben Grieve.
The rookie has two losses and a blown save in his past three appearances, with four runs and five hits allowed in 1 2/3 innings. He could be in danger of losing his spot on the 25-man roster when first baseman David Segui comes off the disabled list next week.
The Orioles didn't get a hit until the fourth inning for the second consecutive night. Again, it was Chris Richard who ended the dry spell. After collecting a leadoff single Wednesday, the first of his three hits, he drilled a home run to center field last night. It was the ninth time he reached base in 11 plate appearances in the series.
Hargrove's lineup also included Myers as the designated hitter and Conine as the third baseman over Cal Ripken, who had seven hits in his past 16 at-bats. Myers went 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs, including a grounder in the seventh that broke a 4-4 tie.
Conine, making his fourth start at the corner, caught a foul pop before tumbling over the railing of the photographers' pit beside the visitor's dugout in the first inning. The next four Devil Rays reached against Hentgen, beginning with a single to center by Johnson.
Grieve doubled into the left-field corner, and both runners scored on a double to right by McGriff, the ball almost going through Richard. Pitching coach Mark Wiley bolted from the dugout after Hentgen walked Vaughn. Hentgen escaped further harm when Aubrey Huff grounded into a double play.
"I struggled with my fastball all night, and every pitch kind of feeds off that one," Hentgen said. "When you struggle with your No. 1 pitch, it's going to be a grind."
Wilson didn't give up a hit until Richard connected for his third home run, but he allowed a run in the second after issuing a leadoff walk and hitting two batters.
Melvin Mora and Lunar were hit with one out after Richard walked. Hairston lifted a sacrifice fly to left, reducing Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1. Wilson also hit DeShields in the first inning.
Breakdown(Through last night's game)
Orioles' record: 15-20............ Extra innings: 3-0
At home: 6-11............................Series wins: 5
On road: 9-9...............................Series losses: 5
On grass: 10-16.........................Series splits: 1
On turf: 5-4................................. Vs. AL East: 11-12
Day games: 4-8.........................Vs. AL Central: 4-8
Night games: 11-12..................Vs. AL West: 0-0
One-run games: 4-6................ Vs. NL: 0-0
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium, New York
TV/Radio: CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Willis Roberts (4-1, 2.60) vs. Yankees' Mike Mussina (3-3, 3.38)