Saturday, May 17, 2008

Orioles Seize Beltway Series Opener

BALTIMORE -- The calendar may have flipped to the Interleague portion of the schedule, but the Orioles stubbornly are sticking to the same page. Baltimore overcame its traditional problems against the National League on Friday night in a 5-3 victory over the Nationals, a result that gave the O's three straight wins and six in their past seven games.

The Orioles came into the game with a 79-114 record in Interleague Play, a mark that stands as the worst of any American League team. And after falling behind early, the home team found a better way to frame those numbers. The Orioles scored five of the game's final six runs, including a pair in the bottom of the fifth that put them ahead for good.

"That's history," said third baseman Melvin Mora, referencing his team's record against NL opponents. "This is a new year. Anything can happen this year if we play good baseball. Anyone can come to our house, so we have to beat them."

Baltimore's winning effort was spread over several innings Friday night, but the key runs came across in the fifth. Second baseman Brian Roberts tripled and scored on a double in that rally, and first baseman Kevin Millar singled in the final run. Baltimore scored on a Luke Scott solo homer in the fourth inning and got two runs on two hits and an error in the second.

All of that support made a winner out of Garrett Olson. The southpaw gave up two runs in the first inning and settled down after that, stranding two runners in both the fourth and fifth innings. Olson (3-0) had worked into the sixth inning of each of his previous three starts, but the Orioles (22-19) elected to pull him after the fifth.

"Olson learned how to pitch tonight without his best stuff," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "And I give him a lot of credit, because I don't know whether he would have been able to do that last year. From the first hitter, he didn't have real good velocity [and] he didn't have real good finish on his pitches, but he competed. They hit a lot of hard outs. ... He put a zero up when we needed to after we scored, and I think it's a real credit what he did for five innings."

"Damage control," added Olson, summarizing the tack he had to take for most of the evening. "You can't be scared and tentative up there. You just have to keep attacking the zone, and you make adjustments off them. The way baseball is, chances are the ball is going to go to somebody behind you. You just try to keep attacking the zone."

Washington (18-25) had a two-run lead after just three batters in the first inning, using two hits and a two-run single from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to take control. Olson got three straight outs after that and coaxed a key double play in the second inning, and he speared a hard liner back through the box to escape a jam in the fifth.

"There are going to be a big chunk of games where you just have to battle and find it," said Olson. "I wouldn't say that I didn't have anything, but I'd maybe say that I didn't have the late movement I normally have."

"I just think he didn't have very good stuff," said Trembley. "He just didn't seem to have real crispness, a real good finish to his pitches. I thought his pitches were down, but they were in the middle of the plate. ... They were free-swinging. His pitch count was down, his ball-strike ratio was very good [and] he didn't walk anybody. He gave us what he had.

"He had to pitch without real good stuff tonight, and it's a credit to him that he competed like that."

Baltimore's comeback began in the third inning, and it got some help from the road team's defense. Adam Jones and Roberts both reached on singles in that rally, and Mora loaded the bases on a walk. Right fielder Nick Markakis hit into a fielder's choice, but Washington second baseman Felipe Lopez threw the ball away, allowing an extra run to score.

The Orioles got one more run in the third on Scott's solo home run, and they took their first lead in the fifth. Washington starter Shawn Hill gave up a leadoff triple in the fifth, and Mora drove Roberts home with a double. Millar singled off Hill (0-1) to provide the final margin, and Baltimore's bullpen took care of the rest of the game.

"Some people call it Orioles Magic, I guess," said Olson, referring to a popular team rallying cry. "But I really feel like it's the sense of attitude that everybody has -- the confidence and the presence where even if we fall behind, we're still going to battle. We showed that tonight. Just keep attacking the zone and guys are going to pick you up."

Baltimore got two-plus innings from Matt Albers and three strikeouts from Jim Johnson in the eighth. After that, southpaw closer George Sherrill worked the ninth for his 16th save of the season. Trembley said he had hoped to avoid using Johnson, but he felt like he didn't really have an alternative after Albers allowed a leadoff hit in the eighth.

"I was hoping we were going to score a couple more runs there," the manager said. "I thought the second inning, Albers went out there and showed real good velocity -- 93-94 with some nasty sink -- but once he got 0-2 on [Lastings] Milledge and then let him off the hook, that was it. I'm going to go to Johnson, because he's hot and he's on a roll. It's that simple."


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