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This year, playoffs won't be missing Lynx

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Through all the games played in frigid temperatures, in a near-empty stadium in April, with a roster that kept changing like a car's odometer, the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx never reached for excuses.

Their only interest was reaching the International League playoffs for the first time since winning the 1995 Governors Cup.

They've made it, clinching the wild card with Saturday's 6-3 win over Buffalo. Matt Riley struck out eight over 6 1/3 innings, Geronimo Gil hit his first home run since the Orioles sent him down and Darwin Cubillan registered his 20th save.

Ottawa will face Pawtucket, the Boston Red Sox's top affiliate, Wednesday in the opening game.

The Lynx ran off a franchise-record 10 consecutive wins, a streak that ended with Friday's 6-4 loss to Buffalo. They still had a shot at winning the North Division until Pawtucket clinched first place that same night.

Given all the adversity this season, including a 5-11 start, Ottawa gladly will settle for the wild card. Just making the playoffs is quite an achievement, considering that this is the Lynx's first season with the Orioles. The Rochester Red Wings bailed after 42 years and five straight losing seasons, including a 55-89 record and last-place finish in 2002.

Injuries and promotions to the major league roster forced the Lynx into 123 player transactions this season, their first with Gary Allenson as manager.

Outfielder Darnell McDonald, the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2002, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Catcher Izzy Molina appeared in only three games before having bone chips removed from his elbow.

Shortstop Felix Escalona lasted nine after the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, because of surgery on his right knee. Infielder Eddy Garabito's pulled hamstring won't allow him to return, either.

Closer Mike Garcia left the team twice to pitch in Mexico. Starter Rigo Beltran departed so he could pitch for Mexico in the Pan American Games.

In less than a week, the Orioles siphoned first baseman Carlos Mendez, infielder Brian Roberts and center fielder Luis Matos off the roster. Mendez was leading the league in hitting.

"That can put a little crimp in your style," Allenson said.

Tim Raines Jr. moved up from the Double-A Bowie Baysox to play center, and the Orioles eventually took him, too. His replacement, Ruben Rivera, was hitting .195 at Bowie but entered yesterday batting .400 with two homers in 12 games with the Lynx.

"Ruben's here," Allenson said, "and we haven't missed a beat."

Doc Rodgers, the Orioles' director of minor league operations, did his best to stock the Lynx's roster without rushing prospects to a higher level.

Outfielder B.J. Littleton made the jump from the lower Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. Infielder Hugh Quattlebaum and catcher Mike Seestedt arrived from the Single-A Frederick Keys.

Joey Hammond, who began the year with Double-A Bowie, has played all four infield positions, left field and right field. "I got him to be a utility-type guy," Allenson said, "and I can't get him out of the lineup."

Hammond was needed in the outfield because the Lynx were running out of players. The Orioles recalled Raines, Matos, Jack Cust and Larry Bigbie. They returned Mendez and third baseman Jose Leon, but they needed catcher Robert Machado and pitchers Eric DuBose, Rick Bauer and Hector Carrasco.

"It's been difficult," Allenson said, "but it's nothing that other teams aren't doing, too."

Not every team will continue playing into September.

"At one time we have guys like Roberts, Matos, Mendez, Leon Bigbie," Allenson said. "When I saw them in spring training, I thought, 'Man, we could be pretty good.' "

The Lynx have stayed that way despite a lineup that includes Raul Casanova as the cleanup hitter and Luis Lopez at shortstop. Both were released by the Orioles after last season but have been invaluable at Triple-A.

When the Orioles purchased Raines' contract last week, it looked like a major blow to the Lynx's playoff hopes. He was hitting .299 with 23 steals, and Allenson coveted his leadoff skills and Gold Glove-caliber defense.

"When we lost Raines, I thought, 'That's probably it. We're not going to make it,' " Allenson said.

Instead, Napoleon Calzado moved atop the order and was batting .318 going into yesterday - 53 points higher than his average at Bowie.

Outfielder Pedro Swann, 32, has been instrumental in holding the Lynx together through the defections and surgeries. An .071 career hitter in 17 major league games with the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, compared with .290 in the minors before this season, Swann was blocked by McDonald, Matos, Bigbie and Cust.

Finally given a chance to play, he was hitting .280 with 21 doubles, two triples, 10 homers and 53 RBIs in 119 games.

"He can be a little streaky, but he works out of it," Allenson said. "He's made some of the biggest plays I've ever seen without the bat. His instincts on the field are extraordinary, and he's a leader in the clubhouse."

Just one of the many success stories in Ottawa, where the characters keep changing, but a season rolls along.

Triple-A Ottawa

The Lynx set a franchise record with their 43rd home victory. Their 21 August wins before yesterday also were a record. ... Tim Harikkala, who began the year in Mexico, was 5-0 with two saves and an 0.81 ERA in 20 games through Saturday. He allowed only three earned runs in his last 11 appearances. ... Sean Douglass was 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in five starts before allowing three earned runs and nine hits over 5 2/3 innings Friday.

Double-A Bowie

The Baysox's hopes of finishing above .500 were dashed with Friday's 5-2 loss to Reading. ... Mike Fontenot, the 19th overall pick in the 2001 draft, hit his 12th homer Friday. His two hits Saturday raised his average to .327, four points below Rick Short's single-season club record set in 2000. ... Dave Borkowski, whose career was saved by ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, finished with a 3.30 ERA that ranked sixth in the Eastern League. ... Ivanon Coffie hit his 14th homer Saturday, tying him with Juan Diaz for the team lead.

Single-A Frederick

Outfielder Woody Cliffords was chosen to the end-of-season Carolina League All-Star team. ... Ryan Hannaman, among three pitchers acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Sidney Ponson, gained his first win with the Keys after three defeats. ... Val Majewski and Mike Huggins hit back-to-back homers Friday, and Majewski added his fifth on Saturday. ... Pitcher Cory Morris won't make his last start because of a sore shoulder. He'll need a magnetic resonance imaging exam.

Single-A Delmarva

Delmarva was eliminated from the playoff race with Tuesday's 7-6 loss to Lexington. Daniel Cabrera went a season-low 1 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs and five hits. ... The Shorebirds won for the ninth time in 13 games Friday, 14-7, over Charleston. ... Richard Bartlett (1-6) allowed five runs and walked six in 3 2/3 innings. It's been a rough season for Bartlett, a third-round pick in 2000 who went 6-0 at Delmarva last year and 6-10 at Frederick.

Short-season Aberdeen

The IronBirds ended a 17-day, 16-game trip, necessitated by the Cal Ripken World Series being played on their home field, with Thursday's 7-5 loss to New Jersey. Aberdeen went 7-9 on the trip. ... Chris Ray, chosen in the third round of this year's draft, reached the mid-90s with his fastball during Wednesday's 12-4 win over New Jersey. He also used a forkball to record many of his outs. ... Nick Markakis, this year's No. 1 pick, hit his first professional homer Tuesday in an 8-7, 13-inning win over Staten Island.

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