Huff's shot ends duel

The Baltimore Sun

The outs came fast and furious last night. Ground balls that slowed in the infield grass. Fly balls that didn't carry. Routine plays followed by more routine plays.

Batters swung and missed. Batters didn't move, regretted the decision and trudged back to the dugout.

And it happened on both sides.

On a night when Erik Bedard turned in his finest start of the season, the Orioles had less to offer against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' James Shields. It wasn't until the Devil Rays finally went to their bullpen in the 10th that someone decided the outcome, with Huff homering off reliever Brian Stokes to give the Orioles a 1-0 victory before an announced 14,780 at Camden Yards.

Huff's fourth home run, and the second against his former team, came after the Devil Rays left the bases loaded in the top half of the inning. And after Shields took a seat in the visiting dugout, having held the Orioles to three hits while outlasting Bedard, who exited after the seventh.

"That's all I had when I hit it," Huff said. "The ball hasn't been carrying that much this year here. I was hoping I had got enough."

The Orioles greeted Huff with the traditional bashing at home plate, pounding him on the head and shoulders until he could escape.

"It's a good feeling," he said. "It's a good pain."

Shields provided a different sort entirely. He permitted only four base runners in nine innings and retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced.

"Those are the kind of games where it's so frustrating as a hitter," Huff said. "You're going through the night really not getting a pitch to hit. It's one thing going 0-for-4 and getting a pitch to hit every at-bat. They're just throwing balls up there you can't really do much with and you've got to give them credit over there."

The Orioles (16-18) came within a few feet of ending the game in regulation. Brian Roberts lined a double into the left-field corner with one out, and Nick Markakis followed with a long drive to center field. Elijah Dukes made the catch while slamming into the fence, and Miguel Tejada flied to shallow right.

"I didn't think that was out," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I was hoping they couldn't run it down."

Shields threw 107 pitches in nine innings. Stokes replaced him in the 10th and faced only two batters, with Huff's ball settling into the glove of Orioles bullpen catcher Rudy Arias.

Arias was helping reliever Jamie Walker warm up when he heard the crack of the bat, looked up and grabbed a souvenir for Huff.

"I said, 'I'm not dropping this one,'" he said.

Tampa Bay fumbled away its best chance in the 10th, loading the bases with two outs against left-hander John Parrish before B.J. Upton grounded out on a 3-1 fastball. The scoreless tie remained intact. And a few hearts stopped racing.

"I know that Upton swings a lot and he's a good hitter," Parrish said. "We wanted to make quality pitches on him. It's always exciting being in those types of situations."

Bedard hasn't won in his past four starts, failing to earn a decision in the past three. His pitch count stood at 97 through the seventh, largely because all three of his walks came among the last eight batters he faced. He held the Devil Rays to three hits, walked three and struck out 10.

"I thought he had his really good stuff this time," Perlozzo said. "His breaking ball was outstanding; his changeup he used a little bit more, which I thought he used a lot last year that made him good. He put his fastball pretty much where he wanted."

Bedard indicated to pitching coach Leo Mazzone after the seventh that he was tiring, and Perlozzo got the same sense when checking on his ace.

"He was pretty honest," Perlozzo said. "My experience with Erik is that usually when you walk down there and you say, 'Are you doing all right?' and he says 'Yes,' you just walk away and don't ask any more questions."

"I was done," Bedard said.

In his only serious jam, Bedard issued consecutive one-out walks to Dukes and Carl Crawford in the sixth, then struck out cleanup hitter Ty Wigginton for the third time and got Upton to ground into a force play.

Often distant with reporters in post-game interviews, Bedard seemed just as bored after getting the last out, walking slowly to the dugout, no expression on his face, as if trouble never had reached him.

Danys Baez replaced Bedard after the seventh inning and hit the first batter he faced, Rocco Baldelli, before retiring the next three batters. Chris Ray, brought into a non-save situation for the second straight game, allowed a one-out double to Delmon Young before getting away clean.

"You can't say enough about Bedard tonight," Huff said. "He went out and gave us a great game. He gave us a chance to go out and score some runs, but equally over there, Shields was dealing. He's a guy that didn't give in tonight. When two guys are pitching like that, it's tough to score runs."

The Orioles weren't scoring runs, but they were taking their hacks.

And going back to the dugout.

The feeling was mutual on the other side. The teams combined had 15 straight batters retired through the fourth.

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