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Twins escape odd 8th inning to top O's, 7-3

For the past nine days, the Orioles and Minnesota Twins have looked like two teams waging a protest against the conventional rules of organized baseball.

Three outs a side each inning? Says who? Each game seems to produce a sequence that borders on the ridiculous. Last night was no exception. The Orioles played the eighth inning as if they were only given two outs. The Twins tried to give them four.

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In the end, Minnesota managed to escape with a 7-3 victory before 24,392 at Camden Yards.

Minnesota scored five runs in the fourth inning against Orioles starter Pat Hentgen (4-6) and held off a late charge to win for the fourth time in six meetings between the teams this season.

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Today, they will complete the wacky season series, but the Twins have already assured themselves more wins than losses against the Orioles for the first time since 1995.

This time, the daily dose of the bizarre came with the Orioles trailing 5-3 in the eighth. They had already rallied for one run, and with one out - keep that in mind, one out - they had runners on first and third against Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

Brook Fordyce lifted a fly ball to deep center field. Nothing unusual about that, but the runner on third base, rookie Jose Morban, raced home as if there were two outs.

Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn talked to Morban before the at-bat, but said, "It's safe to say I didn't convey the information to Jose for him to make that decision."

A remorseful Morban said, "He told me [there was one out], but I forgot, so I made the mistake."

Morban, who had delivered a pinch-hit single to help spark the rally, raced across home plate before realizing he had better get back to third. He hustled back and would have been out, but Twins third baseman Corey Koskie dropped the short-hop relay throw from shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Morban was safe, and the inning was still alive, but the fans sitting closest to third base let him have it.

"What are we going to do?" Trebelhorn said. "We [messed] it up. He [messed] it up, I [messed] it up.

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"We had other chances. That's the easy one to pick out, and Jose's the easy guy to slam because he doesn't score, and you don't see it too often. And I'm the second guy to look at. Line the whole game up and see that we left too many people on [base], and they made great defensive plays, and they beat us.

"Now, does Jose feel bad? Absolutely. He feels terrible about it. He had a great at-bat. He had a great base hit. Do I feel bad? Absolutely, absolutely. He and I feel far worse than any of the experts in this community telling me how dumb I was or him how stupid he was. Believe me, we have more of a vested interest in that play than they do."

But here's the kicker. Minnesota's bench noticed that Morban didn't touch home plate on his way back to third base. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire screamed at Hawkins to make an appeal play, which would have required him to step off the pitcher's rubber and throw home to catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

But Hawkins threw home without stepping off the rubber. It was essentially a pitch, not an appeal, and home plate umpire Eric Cooper called it a ball.

Gardenhire later said he should have gone out to the mound and instructed Hawkins on exactly what to do.

Morban, who should have scored on the would-be sacrifice fly, was given new life. Brian Roberts walked, loading the bases, and keeping the fans in a frenzy.

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But Luis Matos grounded to second, ending the inning.

"It was a break for us," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "We just couldn't capitalize on it."

When the Orioles gave the Twins this kind of a break last Thursday in Minnesota, it cost them the game. That night, the Orioles led 9-8 with two outs in the ninth inning, when closer Jorge Julio struck out Michael Restovich.

It would have ended the game, but catcher Fordyce dropped the third strike and. After a delayed reaction, Restovich ran to first. Fordyce bounced his throw, and first baseman Jeff Conine couldn't come up with it. Doug Mientkiewicz scored all the way from second, tying the game, and the Twins won it, 10-9, in the 10th inning.

This time, Hentgen shared in the blame, even though he retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. In the fourth inning, Shannon Stewart hit a leadoff homer, and Torii Hunter delivered a crushing three-run homer.

"As a starting pitcher, your job is to stay out of the big inning," Hentgen said. "We had a chance to get out of it, and I just didn't make a good pitch [to Hunter]."

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The Orioles went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base, compared with three for the Twins. Hargrove went over to console Morban at his locker after the game.

"Tom Trebelhorn is a very good third base coach, and Morban's a good base runner," Hargrove said. "We'll get to the bottom of what happened, and I would say it won't happen again."

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 12:35 p.m.

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TV/Radio: No TV/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Rick Reed (5-10, 4.83) vs. Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (4-6, 5.82)


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