O's sweep Jays away

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles, almost to a man, insist they're not trying to send any messages. Not to opponents, not to the rest of the league, not to all of baseball. If they beat a division rival, the only significance is that they've won another game. Each one counts the same.

Leave it to everyone else to find special meaning in a three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays, which they completed with yesterday's 7-3 victory before 27,285 at Camden Yards. Or the five wins in six tries against the Blue Jays and New York Yankees. And let's not forget their hold on second place in the American League East.

"We're just going out and trying to play good baseball," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "It's April. When it's August and we're still whipping up on somebody, then we can talk about sending a message. We've got a long way to go."

The first steps are taking them in the right direction.

The Orioles have won eight of their past nine, and 11 of 15. They've put together their second four-game winning streak, doubling last year's total. And they're bonding like brothers.

"Not that we had bad guys last year, but it's a closer group," Chris Gomez said. "I've read where they say how much fun we're having in here, and it's true. Everyone looks forward to coming in the clubhouse, hanging out with each other, going to lunch on the road. I don't know if that translates into wins. I never used to think it did, but now I'm wondering if it might."

Playing without leadoff hitter Brian Roberts for the second straight day because of an illness, the Orioles (11-7) fell behind 1-0 on a homer by Aaron Hill, scored three runs in the fourth inning and never trailed again.

Nick Markakis had a two-run triple in the fourth and an RBI double in the fifth. Miguel Tejada went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and raised his batting average to .338. And Jay Payton, making his first start for the Orioles and replacing Roberts atop the order, had three hits and scored twice.

"The bottom line is, we're playing good baseball," Kevin Millar said. "We're pitching right now, we're catching the ball, we're getting timely hitting. It's a different guy every night, having good at-bats.

"We haven't solved the world problems yet. We've got a long season ahead of us yet. We've just got to keep playing good baseball."

Toronto left-hander Gustavo Chacin retired the first nine batters he faced before Payton opened the fourth inning with a single. Melvin Mora walked, and both runners scored on Markakis' triple, the ball bouncing off the top of the fence in center field.

The Orioles sent 10 batters to the plate in the fifth, scoring four times and chasing Chacin.

"They hadn't seen him this year," Perlozzo said. "After we came in in the fourth, the dugout came to life a little bit. They said, 'Come on, second time around. Let's go get him.' And he left some balls over the plate and we were able to take advantage of him."

The crowd gave starter Steve Trachsel a standing ovation when he left after 5 1/3 innings with the Orioles leading 7-1. He threw 113 pitches but held down the Blue Jays until Perlozzo began dipping into his bullpen.

"He knows how to pitch," Perlozzo said. "He's a veteran guy. Pitching is all about keeping the hitters' timing off, and with his assortment of pitches, when he's right, he can do that."

Trachsel (1-1) recorded his first victory since signing as a free agent in February. He also improved to 4-0 lifetime against the Blue Jays.

"I've heard a lot of good things about this town and this team," he said. "I think if we keep winning, it's going to be exciting to have the fans excited like that. We've been on the road quite a bit. I'm still kind of adjusting to the town. But it's been real good so far."

Chad Bradford had another effective outing, getting Hill to bounce into a double play after inheriting two runners from Trachsel. Scott Williamson, pitching for the first time since April 14, and Jamie Walker each worked a scoreless inning before Toronto pushed across two runs in the ninth against Brian Burres.

"The plan this offseason was to tighten up our bullpen, which they did, which gave us an opportunity to win these games," Millar said. "I think that's the difference this year. Our bullpen has been a lot stronger than it was in the past, so you've got to tip your hat to those guys."

The Orioles moved four games above .500 for the first time since April 21, 2006, when they also were 11-7. But something is different this year.

"It's a lot more fun in here," Gomez said. "You go out and win and it carries over to how everyone feels about themselves. And the better we play, the more we think that we have a chance. We all pull for each other out there. It's a good atmosphere to be in right now."

Said Markakis: "Our guys are going out there and busting their butts every day. We're playing great as a team. All the guys are comfortable. We get along very well and we're playing good together."

Perlozzo senses a growing confidence that only winning can produce. And the Orioles have done plenty of that since an 0-3 start.

"I think it's happening," he said. "You try to ride it as long as you can because you know you're going to run into some rough spots. If we can just stretch it out, all the better for us."


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