Wednesday, June 18, 2008

That's Mora Like It - Mora Muscles Go-Ahead Victory

BALTIMORE -- Two worlds collided at Camden Yards on Tuesday night, when the Orioles got to test their new roster against their former franchise player. The Astros' Miguel Tejada made his first trip back to Baltimore since a December trade that heavily impacted both teams, but franchise stalwart Melvin Mora came up with the big hit in the Orioles' 6-5 win.

Tejada, a four-time All-Star, went 0-for-2 with a walk in his first game against his former team, but the Astros still controlled the game from the fifth inning all the way to the eighth. That's when Mora broke things open with a two-run double to right-center off Houston closer Jose Valverde, who had entered the game with one man out and two men on base.

"I don't care who's there," said Mora. "Miggy was a friend of mine and a friend of everybody here, [but] we just want to beat anybody. The only thing I don't understand is why the people booed him. He did everything he can do for this organization. He played day-in and day-out for us. He played hard every day, and I think you should clap when you see a guy like that."

The winning rally started on a single by Adam Jones, and shortstop Freddie Bynum bunted him over to second base. Reliever Doug Brocail wound up walking Brian Roberts, which forced the Astros (33-38) to summon Valverde. The right-hander struck out Nick Markakis and got ahead on Mora, who worked the count full and sprayed the game-winning double to right-center.

That hit helped the Orioles (35-34) improve to 4-28 when trailing after eight innings and to 16-10 in one-run games. Baltimore also earned its 16th victory in which it trailed by two runs or more and logged its 20th comeback win of the year. And to hear Mora tell it, the latest go-ahead hit seemed pretty unlikely considering the at-bat that directly preceded it.

"When I saw him pitching to Nick Markakis and he threw that high fastball, I said, 'I'm in trouble,' " said Mora, who went into the game hitting .370 with runners in scoring position. "I don't like when pitchers throw that high fastball, because you won't be able to catch it. I'm glad he threw me just strikes, and I said, 'OK, now I've got him.' ... I knew he was going to go after me."

"You know, people have asked me about Melvin being in the three-hole," added Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "There's a lot of reasons. You put Roberts and Nick back-to-back [and] they're not going to walk one guy to face the other. So pick your poison there, but Melvin has experience and Melvin's numbers don't lie hitting with guys on base and hitting with men in scoring position. Melvin has got some awful big hits for us, and, boy, there was none bigger than the one he got tonight."

Baltimore starter Garrett Olson endured his second straight rough outing and was gone before the end of the fifth. The southpaw helped one run score with a pair of wild pitches in his first inning and was victimized for a two-out rally in the fifth. Three straight Astros got singles in that inning, and infielder Kazuo Matsui drove in two runs with a double.

Strangely enough, Olson had retired 12 straight batters when the Astros began to break through. The left-hander just couldn't find his best form, maddeningly searching for pitches that he had made easily just one inning before.

"Well, I didn't think it was going to end up like that," said Trembley of the way the game progressed. "I'm awful glad we won, but Olson pitched to the fifth [and had] two outs and nobody on and I don't know what happened. [Pitching coach Rick Kranitz has] got the term that he got stuck. I guess he got stuck and couldn't get it out of neutral."

"I think it started with that base hit," explained Olson. "I left the ball up, and for no reason I just wasn't making the adjustment to get the ball back down through the zone. I was just kind of leaving some pitches up and not trusting my pitches at all. I fell behind the next couple hitters and it just kind of snowballed on me. Before you know it, they have three runs.

"It was very frustrating, because I felt good. I felt like I had all my pitches working for me."

That hit sunk Baltimore behind, and starter Brandon Backe helped keep it that way. The right-hander had given up a two-run homer to Aubrey Huff in the third inning but stranded two runners on base in the fourth. Houston's bullpen escaped a tense situation in the seventh, stranding two runners on a strikeout by Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez.

The Orioles escaped a similar fate on Mora's full-count hit in the eighth, which meant that closer George Sherrill got a chance to exorcise some demons. The southpaw had a rocky weekend -- allowing runs in two straight outings and speaking of a "dead arm" on Sunday -- but redeemed himself by retiring the Astros in order for his 23rd save of the season.

"I felt pretty good today," he said. "I think icing [Sunday] and getting the day off yesterday really helped. I felt like I had a lot of life in the bullpen, so it gave me a little extra confidence going in."

Trembley, who will celebrate his one-year anniversary as Baltimore manager on Wednesday, reveled in the win.

"It's a real honor for me to be here. And somebody asked me earlier today what it was like for me, because I guess I've been here a year now," he said. "I'll tell everybody here: Watching this team, it's a privilege to be with this team.

"And for what this team has done and for the improvement that's gone on here and the approach and how these guys play the game, it's a real privilege for me to be a part of it."


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