Batista homer in 10th lets O's pack win, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The demise of an eight-game losing streak Wednesday brought comfort to Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who noted how the air conditioning in his apartment was a little cooler, the chair in his living room a little softer, his eyelids a little heavier at a more reasonable hour.

The relief extended into last night, but it was fleeting. The Orioles took a train to New York, where the streets will be a lot more crowded, the Bronx stadium a lot louder, the competition a lot more intimidating. And that's just the beginning of a trip that also includes stops in Oakland and Seattle - a trifecta that could leave them tapped out.

Given a final chance to assert themselves against a team the standings suggest they should beat, the Orioles capitalized on it. Bring on the bleacher creatures and the cross-country travel.

Tony Batista led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a home run off Tampa Bay's Jesus Colome, finding a fastball on the inside half of the plate and pulling it into the left-field seats, and the Orioles completed their rally with a 5-4 victory over the Devil Rays before 24,919 at Camden Yards.

Colome (3-7) missed with his first pitch. A second fastball, which registered 95 mph on the stadium's radar gun, didn't get past Batista, who's 5-for-9 with two homers lifetime against the Devil Rays' reliever.

"I was just thinking of having a good at-bat, looking for something inside, my pitch, and try to hit the ball hard, try to hit a homer," said Batista, who has 22 of them this season. "The first pitch he threw too much inside. I was looking for another pitch inside, and I got it right there."

The Orioles' last walk-off homer came from Gary Matthews on Aug. 20, 2002, also against Tampa Bay. This one came two days after Hargrove chewed out the club following a sloppy, 9-2 loss to the Devil Rays.

"Any time you have a meeting, it may not have an immediate effect, but it has an effect," Hargrove said. "Is that the reason we've won the last two? No, the reason is our guys have gone out and busted their butts and played heads-up, aggressive baseball."

A two-out error by third baseman Jared Sandberg let the tying run score in the eighth, as the Orioles overcame a 4-0 deficit. Trailing 4-2 when the inning began, they got a run-scoring grounder by Batista off Colome and a sharp grounder by Deivi Cruz that skidded between Sandberg's legs.

Relievers John Parrish, Kerry Ligtenberg and B.J. Ryan (4-1) gave Hargrove three scoreless innings while covering for Jason Johnson, ending a bullpen streak of 12 straight games allowing one or more runs.

"It would have been real easy to stop and check it in," Hargrove said, "but Jason recovered and pitched pretty well and our bullpen really picked up the slack. Our guys played hard."

The Orioles were shut out for six innings by 20-year-old rookie Chad Gaudin, the majors' youngest pitcher who began the year at Single-A Bakersfield.

Next up: David Wells, Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras and Andy Pettitte.

Asked during batting practice if he was looking ahead to the next 10 games, Hargrove smiled and said, "I try not to."

Speeding toward the season's final month, the Orioles once again are reduced to playing spoilers, a role rivaled in length only by the Broadway run of Cats.

Seattle is three games ahead of Oakland in the AL West. The Athletics hold a one-game lead over Boston for the wild card.

Their positions could be scrambled by the time the Orioles, with roster expanded and perhaps their self-esteem inflated, return home Sept. 2.

"Too many times, major league baseball players are portrayed as these guys who don't give a damn. As long as they get their check, everything's hunky-dory," Hargrove said. "But the vast majority of them have a great deal of pride in the job they do. These guys are no different. There's a lot at stake here with these people."

The Orioles can be certain of one thing: They won't be subjected to the Devil Rays, who went 11-8 against them - the most wins Tampa Bay's had against any team in one season. The music finally stopped on this slow-dance, which began the second week of April. Time to switch partners.

"It definitely helps to win this game," left fielder Larry Bigbie said.

"It's going to be a long road trip, just going from the East Coast to the West Coast, and coming back to win means a lot. It kind of keeps our spirits up."

The Orioles took two of three from Tampa Bay after being swept last week at Tropicana Field. Last night, the Devil Rays attempted to win while manager Lou Piniella rested starters Rocco Baldelli, Damian Rolls and catcher Toby Hall.

Right fielder Aubrey Huff robbed Jay Gibbons of a home run to end the fourth, and one inning later became the third player to hit a ball onto Eutaw Street this season, breaking a scoreless tie. Al Martin added an RBI single during a three-run inning.

Sandberg led off the sixth with a homer that increased the Devil Rays' lead to 4-0, and Johnson failed in his second attempt at his career-high 11th victory.

Gaudin lost his shutout bid in the seventh on Cruz's one-out single that scored Batista. Brook Fordyce's single off Brandon Backe reduced Tampa Bay's lead to 4-2.

Orioles tonight

Opponent:New York Yankees

Site:Yankee Stadium, New York

Time:7:05

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

Starters:Orioles' Pat Hentgen (4-6, 4.42) vs. Yankees' David Wells (12-3, 3.91)

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