Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hernandez caps wild walk-off win for Orioles

BALTIMORE -- If the Orioles have proved one thing this season, it's that no opponent's lead is safe -- 19 of the team's 34 wins have been come-from-behind victories. To emphasize that point, the Orioles came back for the second game in a row against the Pirates, and this time, they did it in walk-off style with an 8-7 victory Saturday.

The Orioles and Pirates (33-36) traded blows the entire game, but the knockout punch didn't connect until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Oscar Salazar took Matt Capps' (0-2) first pitch over the left-field wall to tie the game at 7. Two batters later, Freddie Bynum put himself in scoring position by hitting a single and stealing second base, before coming around with the winning run on Ramon Hernandez's single to left-center field.

The walk-off hit came just a half-inning after closer George Sherrill (2-1) blew his third save of the season, unable to hold a 6-5 Orioles lead. With Jason Bay on first base, Adam LaRoche took Sherrill's 2-1 pitch over the right-field wall -- an almost identical homer to the one Nick Markakis hit just two innings earlier to put the Orioles (34-33) ahead. Sherrill hadn't blown a save at home this season and had converted his past 12 opportunities, with his last blown save coming more than a month ago on May 7 against Oakland.

"What a tremendous game for our team and our fans," manager Dave Trembley said. "George Sherrill has meant so much to this club that we came in the clubhouse after and [Brian] Roberts said, 'Hey George, there was never a doubt. We were going to get one for you.' And I think that says something about our team. George Sherrill has meant so much to our team. For the guys to come back like they did -- not once, not twice, but three times ... that's just incredible, incredible, the fight that's in this team."

For Salazar, it had been six years between home runs, the last one coming on April 19, 2002 -- the last year he was in the Major Leagues -- when he was with the Detroit Tigers.

"It's unbelievable," Salazar said. "I looked for a pitch to hit. It's the ninth inning, we're down by one run, I'm just trying to hit the ball. ... As soon as it left my bat, I knew that ball was gone."

And Hernandez was more than happy to add the finishing touch, but with the fans at Camden Yards on their feet, Hernandez hit the fourth pitch of the at-bat down the right-field line, where a charging Xavier Nady ran into the wall, jamming his shoulder as the ball reached the seats. The injury delayed the Orioles' heroics by a few minutes, but two pitches later, Hernandez finished the job.

"I was going, 'Man, come on, just hurry up,' I'm kind of getting nervous just waiting," Hernandez said of the injury delay. "You just want to get it over with. You're warm, you see a few pitches, you kind of get in a rhythm. After that, it's tough [to wait for a] long time. You're trying to get your mind set again, trying to get it going.

"At least I'm happy that I did something to help my team. But every day somebody does something; it's not one guy doing it all. This year, all the guys work together."

The Orioles have been making quite a habit of coming from behind to win, but in this game, they were working themselves out of a hole almost every inning.

Roberts was the offensive sparkplug for the Orioles, helping to bring them back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits early in the game and getting on base in front of Markakis' homer in the seventh. Roberts accounted for the Baltimore's first two runs with a pair of RBI doubles in the third and fifth innings.

"You can never let anybody tell you you can't do something," Trembley said. "You can't succeed in this game and in life with that thought process at all. You have to believe you can do it and you have to know you can do it. That's just a tremendous game -- I can pick out so many guys. We're talking before the game about the improvement in Brian Roberts, how he's swinging the bat right-handed."

After the Orioles broke open a 2-2 game in the bottom of the sixth inning to go ahead 4-2, the Pirates came right back. Third baseman Jose Bautista smacked a three-run homer off Baltimore reliever Matt Albers, reclaiming the lead.

Shortstop Alex Cintron connected on a Zach Duke offering in the sixth with the bases loaded and sent it to deep left-center, giving the Orioles the short-lived two-run lead. Duke was tagged for four runs in a no-decision.

Radhames Liz threw 6 1/3 innings for Baltimore, once again turning in a solid start. Despite surrendering solo home runs to Nady in the second inning and Freddy Sanchez in the fourth, Liz only allowed four hits and struck out five, keeping the Orioles in the game. He allowed two base hits in the sixth and was pulled in favor of Albers, who got Doug Mientkiewicz to fly out to left field before giving up the three-run shot to Bautista.

"Liz, that's as good as you're going to see that guy," Trembley said. "You talk about improvement. [Rick] Kranitz did one small thing with him -- lined him up so that his step would be right toward home plate, and I tell you, from the first inning, that kid was impressive. And there's a lot of that stuff going on here."


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