Saturday, June 14, 2008

Orioles Magic Sends O's Past Pirates

BALTIMORE -- The story began at one extreme and wound itself back again. It would be easy to marry Orioles starter Brian Burres to the result from Friday night's game, which in turn would divorce him from an unsightly stat line. The truth is more complex, which means that Burres can get both credit and blame for Baltimore's 9-6 win over Pittsburgh.

The blame, of course, is fairly easy to pinpoint. Burres allowed six earned runs in the first three innings, sinking the Orioles into an early deficit and sending himself into early damage control mode. But then he settled down, keeping the Pirates (34-35) from adding any offense through the end of the sixth inning and allowing the home team to get back in the game.

"He had thrown a couple good innings. Plus, we needed him to throw six," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz on the decision to push Burres further. "We can't keep getting into our bullpen. These guys have got to go, and he righted himself pretty good. That's not an easy thing to do, especially after giving up six [runs]. He turned the tide and gave us our momentum."

The end result may be perplexing, but it's also quite indicative of the southpaw's season. Burres worked to a 3-1 record and a 2.59 ERA in his first four starts, but he's gone 2-4 with a 6.70 ERA since the end of April. He had been knocked out before the end of the fifth inning in three straight starts before Friday, when he seemed on the verge of doing it again.

But there he was, pitching scoreless ball from the fourth through the sixth, saving the game and perhaps his job in the process. Baltimore has already lost two arms from its Opening Day rotation, and Burres (5-5) could wind up being the third. The offense helped curtail that conversation Friday, thanks to a five-run burst spread between the fifth and sixth innings.

"I just started really attacking the zone a little bit better," Burres said. "I was falling behind a lot in those first couple innings. Later, I just started getting ahead of hitters a little more. I think it worked out a little better from there."

Strangely enough, Burres almost never got the chance to rebound. Reliever Lance Cormier was up in the bullpen at one point, and Kranitz and manager Dave Trembley repeatedly discussed the proper point to make a move.

"I was going to go to Cormier early and Kranny talked me out of it," Trembley said. "The second time, we kind of met halfway. Kranny just said, 'Hey, he's either got to show he can do it now or we won't be able to count on him again later on.' ... He said that the pitches that he made poorly weren't that bad. I've got to give my pitching coach credit."

"It's all a process," added Kranitz. "It's hard to say, 'Hey, because he's not throwing real good right now, what are we going to do about it?' It's my job to make sure that he gets going in the right direction, and I think we saw some pretty good signs today. That's really all he needed -- to get through a couple innings and get on a roll. He hadn't been able to.

"They'd gotten him, and they'd gotten him quick. It was just a good job for him, making it through six."

The Pirates went quietly in the first inning, but ripped into Burres in the second, when they loaded the bases with one out. The southpaw got a harmless fly ball, but allowed a two-run single with two outs to shortstop Jack Wilson. The Pirates came back for four more runs in the fourth, with right fielder Jason Michaels providing a three-run homer.

Baltimore (33-33) scored to make it a four-run game in the fourth inning and came back for more in the fifth. Veteran Kevin Millar brought the Orioles within a run on a two-run single, setting things up for more drama in the sixth. Melvin Mora singled to give the home team a lead, and the O's added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth to seal the win.

"The team did such a good job bailing me out," said Burres. "I put us in a pretty big hole early and just tried to keep it there as close as it could be. They did a great job battling back, and the bullpen did a great job, too."

Burres retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced, and Baltimore's bullpen handled the rest of the game. Right-handed reliever Jim Johnson pitched two perfect innings and closer George Sherrill worked the ninth for his 22nd save. But in the aftermath, Burres seemed to be the only story worth talking about in the O's clubhouse.

"I would say the biggest three outs Burres got in the game was in the sixth," said Trembley. "He slowed down. Before, when he gave up pitches, he looked like somebody had pulled the fire alarm. He was just really rushing, and we try to tell these guys that there's such a thing called tempo. There's a time to speed it up and time to slow it down, especially against a team that looks like they're basically running from the on-deck circle to get in the batter's box [and] can't wait to get in there."

"He was rough the first couple innings. He couldn't make pitches when he needed to," said catcher Ramon Hernandez, who doubled and drew two walks. "When he got ahead of the guys, he couldn't locate the pitch to put the guys away when he needed to with men in scoring position. But you know what? After the third inning ... he kind of settled down.

"I told him, 'We've got to keep going.' ... Our relievers were tired and had been pitching a lot, and I told him if we held them there, we might come back. You never know. He came back out, and the last three innings, he was tremendous."


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