ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Orioles are now 10 games into the 2006 season, but their performance on a nightly basis remains nearly impossible to predict. Their starting pitching goes from a strength to a question mark depending on the day and their of fense goes from imposing to disappearing from one night to the next.
Last night, the Orioles were shut down by Doug Waechter, a 25-year-old right-hander with a career record well under .500, for six innings before coming alive against the Devil Rays" bullpen. They scored two runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth, two on third baseman Melvin Mora's two-out game-winning home run that sent the Orioles to a 6-5 victory before 13,042 at Tropicana Field.
Mora slammed a hanging curveball by Tampa Bay closer Dan Miceli (0-1) into the left-field seats, dropping the bat near home plate and watching the flight of his fourth home run of the season and his third hit in the night. Chris Ray pitched a scoreless ninth and was credited with the victory.
"It was a fastball middle in and I crushed it." Mora said. "What else do you want me to say? I was just waiting for it. The at-bat before, they tried to get me inside and they almost broke my finger. So I said, "I need to try to pull the ball."'
A series that started with two straight wins, backed by good starting pitching and an explosive offense, appeared to be on the verge of resulting in a four-game split. Waechter gave up a run in the first but then shut the Orioles down over the next five innings. However, the Orioles (5-5) rallied against the bullpen scoring two runs in the eighth on RBI singles by Miguel Tejada and Ramon Hernandez.
Javy Lopez started the ninth-inning rally with a walk, and pinch runner Luis Matos moved to third on Nick Markakis' single. Brian Roberts brought home Matos with a sacrifice fly, cutting the lead to 5-4. Mora's homer came on the first pitch after David Newhan flied out to deep right-center.
"There was more emotion in the dugout in the last two innings than I had seen the entire game." said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. "The fact that we were able to come back and win that game is a real positive for this ballclub. It was a great series for us. When it was all said and done, we figured if we could come out of this thing 3-1, we had achieved a goal that we knew was going to be tough."
Orioles starter Bruce Chen was solid, but paid for his few mistakes over his 7 2/3-inning effort. He gave up a homer to Ty Wigginton in the second, to Travis Lee in the fourth, to Tomas Perez in the fifth and to Jonny Gomes in the sixth. The only other hit he allowed was a two-out double to Jorge Cantu in the eighth, which proved to be the last batter the left-hander faced.
"I tried to make good pitches and they made good contact." Chen said. "I am glad there was only four good contacts.
"I couldn't do anything. After they hit the home runs, I couldn't get them back. The only thing I could do was keep throwing some innings, give this team a chance to win. These guys did a great job in the eighth inning and again in the ninth."
Jim Brower came on when Chen left in the eighth and surrendered an RBI single to Gomes to give the Devil Rays (4-6) a two-run cushion they"d squander.
Waechler, who went to high school 4M-= miles away from Tropicana Field and entered last night's start 13-21 with a 5.41 ERA as a pro, held the Orioles to one run and six hits over six innings. Tejada and Hernandez had four of those six hits.
The Orioles returned home late last night from Florida to a whole new set of challenges. They start a four-game series to night with the Los Angeles Angels and after the American League West Division leader leaves town, the Cleveland Indians, a sexy pick to win the World Series, arrive.
Then, the Orioles will go on the road and play six games in seven days against the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I think we all know that the games are on the schedule and they have to be played." Perlozzo said. "It doesn't mean that we're not going to be able to win those ballgames either. We have a lot of things that we're capable of doing that we're not doing right now. That could happen at any point in time. The key is to win every game that you think you should win."
Last night could be categorized as one of those games.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first on Tejada's RBI ground out. Newhan, who had singled with one out and advanced to third on a double to right by Mora, scored the run.
The Devil Rays tied the game in the second on a leadoff home run by Wigginton, who turned around a hanging curveball from Chen. It was Wigginton's third home run in four nights and his fourth of the season.
Again using the long ball, the Devil Rays took a 2-1 lead in the fourth as Lee hammered Chen's 2-0 fastball just over the center- field wall. They tacked on another bases-empty shot in the fifth, this one by shortstop Tomas Perez, who registered his first homer of the year.
Jonny Gomes, whose eighth-inning grand slam off Sendy Rleal beat the Orioles on Wednesday, then got into the act, connecting in the sixth.
Chen had given up only four hits through six innings, but all four were bases-empty home runs.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' offense could get nothing going against Waechter. After Hernandez's leadoff double in the second, Waechter retired 14 of the next 15 hitters he faced.