The distractions keep mounting for the Orioles, with the mind-set of star shortstop Miguel Tejada becoming the latest issue to divert attention from on-field matters. Lost among all the specula tion is that for the first time in about two months, the Orioles are playing good baseball.
Their starting pitching has improved significantly, mostly because of Erik Bedard and Kris Benson. The Orioles' offense has also made strides, highlighted by yesterday's battering of the Philadelphia Phillies in a day-night doubleheader.
The Orioles swept the Phillies behind Benson (9-5) and Bedard and a host of offensive contributors, led by Ramon Hernandez, who had two home runs and six RBIs and caught both games. After a 41-minute rain delay, Hernandez broke open the nightcap with a three-run, fourth-inning homer and the Orioles held on for a 12-5 victory, handing Philadelphia its seventh straight loss.
In the opener, Bedard pitched seven scoreless innings and Brian Roberts hit his first homer since last August in the Orioles' 7-4 victory before 20,633 at Camden Yards.
Many of the Orioles filtered in around 10 a.m. yesterday, after Tuesday night's rainout. The nightcap didn't end until 11 p.m., but the Orioles happily endured the long day. The Orioles ( 37-42) have won seven of their past 11 games and will go for the three-game sweep of the Phillies tonight behind Rodrigo Lopez.
"We always seem like we've been on the verge for a little while." Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We can never seem to get over that hump. It's real important, that if we going to do that, we've got to string a couple [of wins] together."
Bedard ( 8-6) allowed five hits over seven innings, picking up his third straight win. He has a 16-inning scoreless streak and a 1.29 ERA in his past three starts.
"He's throwing a lot of strikes." Hernandez said. "He's getting ahead of the count early. As hard as he throws, with the stuff he has, if he gets ahead, it's hard to hit him. He's pitching in and out well. He's keeping everything down. All his off-speed pitches, he's been throwing them for strikes. Now he's in a good groove, and hopefully he continues doing it the way he has every time out."
Hernandez, who caught the young Oakland Athletics staff that included Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson and then went to San Diego where he caught Jake Peavy, predicted that Bedard could be a 20-game winner before his career is over. Perlozzo again praised his 27-year-old left-hander for relying more on his off-speed stuff, instead of just trying to blow hitters away with fastballs.
"I just see something in Erik that I feel like he's trying to take his game to the next level." Perlozzo said.
The Orioles took a 7-0 lead into the eighth, when Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino each hit two-run homers off Orioles reliever Kurt Birkins, who hadn't allowed a homer all season before yesterday. LaTroy Hawkins got the last out of the eighth and closer Chris Ray pitched a perfect ninth for his 20th save in 21 opportunities.
The Orioles took a 4-0 lead after a three-run third inning where Hernandez delivered the big hit with a two-run, 395-foot homer off Phillies' rookie left-hander Cole Hamels (1-4). Hernandez's homer, which followed an RBI single from Miguel Tejada, was his 14th of the season.
Roberts, who reached base four times in five plate appearances in the game, extended the Orioles' lead to 6-0 by hitting Hamels' pitch deep into the left-field seats for his first homer since Aug. 30. The Orioles second baseman has been questioned - and ribbed by teammates - for weeks about his lack of a home run after he hit 18 last season.
Roberts had predicted that his home run total would drop significantly after his offseason workout regime was cut short by serious elbow surgery.
"I was content the whole year." Roberts said. "I knew my power might drop, just because of strength wise and not being in the same physical condition I was last year. I hoped that I'd hit one, eventually. It wasn't on my mind. I never really thought about it. It's nice to certainly do it, but it's not a big deal to me right now."
It was to a couple of his teammates, who chided the All-Star second baseman afterward. When asked what was said, Roberts replied, "Congratulations. Way to catch Benson."
Benson homered off New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez earlier this month. The Orioles right-hander was not as sharp as he has been last night, allowing four earned runs, including three home runs, over five innings. Todd Williams came on with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fifth and got Victorino to hit into a force at home and then David Bell to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Rookie Nick Markakis had his first four-hit game of his career in the nightcap.