Slip-up spoils fine start for O's Moss, 3-2

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Damian Moss was having a splendid debut for the Orioles last night - until he tripped and fell onto his rear end.

Moss slipped on the mound at the game's most critical moment, and his new defense couldn't bail him out, as the Minnesota Twins used another fluke play to claim a 3-2 victory before 24,077 at Camden Yards.

Fortunately for Moss, the Orioles will remember this night most for what he did when he was standing, not sitting.

Four days after coming to the Orioles with right-hander Kurt Ainsworth and minor-league left-hander Ryan Hannaman in the trade that sent Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants, Moss held the Twins to three runs (one earned) on six hits in 6 2/3 innings.

"I thought it was a tremendous effort in this heat and humidity." Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Coming to a new place and wanting to impress, he certainly did that. He kept us in the game, and this is a very good hitting ball club."

The Twins, who have won three of four against the Orioles in the past week, came in ranked fourth in the American League with a .278 batting average.

Engaging Brad Radke (8-9) in a tight pitcher's duel, Moss got to the sixth inning with the score tied 1-1.

The Twins loaded the bases, and then with two outs, Moss had the most unfortunate of moments.

A.J. Pierzynski took a defensive swing and hit a slow roller toward second baseman Brian Roberts. Moss might have had a chance to field the ball, but he slipped and fell.

"I think I do [have a chance at the ball]." Moss said. "Yeah."

Roberts charged, fielding the ball on the infield grass, and threw across his body. The ball sailed to the right-field side of first base, and with limited reaction time, Jeff Conine got a glove on the ball, but couldn't catch it.

The ball went into foul territory, allowing both Corey Koskie and Torii Hunter to score. Roberts was charged with an error, only his third in 63 games, and both of the runs were unearned.

"The effort was there." Hargrove said. "It was a tough play."

The Orioles got one run back in the bottom of the sixth, capitalizing on a leadoff double by Luis Matos. Conine moved him to third with a little tapper to the right side of the mound, and Jay Gibbons brought him home with a run-scoring grounder to second.

Gibbons, who led off the fourth inning with his 18th home run, is 14-for-28 in his past seven games, and his 77 RBIs for the season are a team high.

But the Twins protected that one-run lead over the final three innings. The Orioles threatened again in the eighth on singles by Matos and Tony Batista, but LaTroy Hawkins fanned Larry Bigbie with a 95 mph fastball to end the inning.

Eddie Guardado stranded the tying run on first base in the ninth for his 100th career save.

Afterward, Moss was disappointed, but not overly distraught.

"If I put up quality starts, Twins and losses are going to take care of themselves." he said.

The first time through the order, the Twins weren't fooled, as seven of the nine batters hit the ball hard.

With his first pitch as an Oriole, Moss pitch registered 84 mph on the stadium radar gun, and Shannon Stewart lined the next one toward left-center field.

But shortstop Deivi Cruz made a leaping catch.

The next batter, Chris Gomez, lined a ball up the middle, but Cruz took a couple steps to his left and made another catch.

After retiring those two right-handed hitters, Moss faced his first left-hander of the night, Doug Mientkiewicz.

Moss has had a tougher time against lefties than righties this year, and it's been a remarkable change. He held left-handers to a .165 average last year, but they came in batting .342 against him this year, compared with .250 for right-handers.

All six of the hits Moss surrendered were to left-handed hitters.

The first pitch to Mientkiewicz was supposed to be low and away, but Moss left the fastball up and in, and Mientkiewicz pulled it a few feet over the right-field scoreboard for a home run.

"I'm not sure if it'd be a home run anywhere else." Hargrove said.

Koskie followed with a smash toward Conine, and the ball took a nasty hop, bouncing off Conine's bare hand for a double. Hunter grounded out to end the inning.

Moss seemed to find his rhythm after Gibbons made a diving catch start the third inning, robbing Stewart of extra bases. Including that play, Moss had a stretch from the second to the fourth inning where he retired nine consecutive batters.

"When they pulled him out." Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce said, "I told him for flying in here and not knowing anybody, it was a great outing."

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