Bedard, O's keep it up

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles still don't have the starting left side of their infield. They no longer have their primary closer.

Layers of the team keep peeling off, but it hasn't been exposed.

With shortstop Miguel Tejada in the minors on a rehabilitation assignment and reliever Chris Ray on the disabled list, the Orioles remain a resilient bunch. They won again last night, getting six workmanlike innings from Erik Bedard and a huge break in the first inning to defeat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 6-1, before an announced crowd of 21,427 at Camden Yards.

Corey Patterson came within a triple of the cycle, leading off the seventh inning with his fifth home run. Every starter reached base except Nick Markakis, who contributed a sacrifice fly.

"Right now, we're playing pretty good as a team," said catcher Ramon Hernandez, who was credited with a two-run single in the first when the Devil Rays misplayed his fly ball.

"We're scoring some runs and we're playing good defense, and that's one of the keys why we're winning. Going through a season, you're going to get hot."

The Orioles improved to 46-53 overall and 17-13 under interim manager Dave Trembley. They moved within seven games of .500 for the first time since June 13.

And they're doing it without the roster they envisioned.

Tejada played six innings at Double-A Bowie yesterday while recovering from a fractured left wrist. Ray went on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow.

But the wins keep coming - three in a row, four of five, eight of 11.

"It starts with attitude," Trembley said. "Let's remember and respect that these guys are major league baseball players. If you communicate and prepare and you commit yourself each and every time you are out there, you're going to get the most out of your abilities."

Bedard (10-4) isn't leaving much in the tank, though Raul Casanova's bases-empty homer in the third ended a streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings by Orioles pitchers. Bedard allowed six hits, walked two and struck out eight among his 109 pitches. He hasn't lost since Trembley replaced Sam Perlozzo on June 18.

"Tonight shows why he is such a good pitcher - because he pitches, he doesn't throw," Trembley said. "He stayed with his game plan. They were working the count really well, taking a lot of pitches, getting a lot of deep counts, and he kept pitching."

Said Bedard: "It was a battle from the first pitch of the game. They took a lot of good pitches and fouled a lot off."

The left-hander hasn't lost since June 10 in Colorado, going 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA and 41 strikeouts in his past four starts covering 29 innings. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his past nine outings.

"He just keeps showing that he's a No. 1 on this staff," Trembley said, "and one of the better pitchers in the American League."

Bedard struck out Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton looking, both at fastballs, after walking Akinori Iwamura with one out in the third. And he struck out Ty Wigginton and induced a grounder from Jonny Gomes, both on curveballs, after Delmon Young doubled and Brendan Harris singled with one out in the fourth.

Upton was so agitated at the called third strike that he engaged in a heated debate with plate umpire Tom Hallion. Hitting coach Steve Henderson yelled from the dugout and was ejected.

Upton's mood didn't improve in the fifth. After consecutive one-out singles by Iwamura and Crawford, Upton sent a sharp grounder up the middle that rookie shortstop Luis Hernandez smothered before flipping the ball to Brian Roberts, who caught it bare-handed and turned the double play.

"The strength of our club has been pitching and defense and staying away from the big inning by catching the ball," Trembley said. "And it's happening because guys are working at it."

The Devil Rays weren't nearly as sharp in the field, and it cost them three runs in the first.

The Orioles loaded the bases against Andy Sonnanstine on Patterson's single and two-out walks to Kevin Millar and Aubrey Huff. Hernandez followed with a shallow fly ball to left that fell between Crawford and Harris, allowing two runs to score.

Harris, the Devil Rays' shortstop, kept glancing at Crawford, who pulled up at the last instant. The mistake haunted Sonnanstine further when Jay Payton singled to increase the lead to 3-0.

"I think there was a misunderstanding over who was going to catch it," Hernandez said. "It's always a big play when you get two [RBIs] out of that and you should be out of the inning.

"Sometimes, you've got to have a break. How many times do you hit a line drive and it's right at them?"

Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon hung his head in the dugout.

"That's pop-up coverage 101," he said. "We have to make that play. Everybody has to make that play. That was huge."

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