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Fresh start for Huff, O's

The Baltimore Sun

The boos raining down on Orioles designated hitter Aubrey Huff had dissipated to barely a drizzle even before his final at-bat yesterday at Camden Yards.

By the time Huff touched home with a game-winning solo homer in a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners that secured the club's best start in 10 years, Huff's disparaging offseason comments about Baltimore seemed officially forgiven.

The small but spirited announced crowd of 10,774 rose to its feet to celebrate Huff's heroics and the Orioles' first four-game series sweep since August 2004.

"It means a lot to me," said Huff, who was booed lustily on Opening Day and sporadically since in retribution for calling Baltimore a "horse -- -- town" on a syndicated radio show.

"I made a mistake. And what I've got to do to win them back, their hearts, is probably just hit. Hopefully, all will be forgiven."

It was the second homer of the season for Huff, a traditionally slow starter, and it came at the perfect time for the Orioles (5-1), the American League's best team through baseball's first week. They've won five straight since losing Opening Day, their fastest start since going 7-1 in 1998.

"We're playing great. One hundred percent team effort," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said. "Everybody's contributing. It's a different guy every night."

The four-game sweep, which is the club's first since beating the Texas Rangers four years ago, came against a Mariners team (2-5) that is expected to compete for the American League West title.

"You have got to do an awful lot of things right to win four games in a row against a good team like Seattle," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "We got great pitching out of the bullpen, timely hitting and played good defense."

As it has in each game this season, the Orioles bullpen excelled, allowing no runs in three innings. Rookie reliever Dennis Sarfate (2-0) retired all four batters he faced, including a strikeout of pinch hitter Mike Morse on a 99 mph fastball with two on and two out in the seventh. George Sherrill pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save. Orioles relievers have allowed two runs in 21 1/3 innings (0.84 ERA).

"It's the best bullpen in the league in my eyes," Sarfate said. "You have guys that can come in for lefties or righties or go two innings or [be a] closer. It's fun. It's fun sitting out there knowing that we have a chance to win every game."

The afternoon started out rough for Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, who allowed solo homers to leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez in a 30-pitch inning. But he settled down, allowing two more runs in the next five innings. His only true mistake after the first was briefly arguing a call at first base with his back turned to the plate. Seattle's Adrian Beltre scampered home to tie the score at 3. The teams traded runs in the fifth before Huff came to the plate in the eighth.

Hitless in his first three at-bats, Huff smacked the first pitch he saw from Seattle left-hander Eric O'Flaherty (0-1) over the right-center-field wall, capping a tremendous first week for the Orioles and silencing Huff's vocal critics. Well, most of them anyway.

"I did hear some boos after I was announced Player of the Game, which was kind of entertaining," Huff said, laughing.

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