- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

BALTIMORE Cal Ripken's 3,000th career hit came on Saturday night, but his 3,001st was much more dramatic.

Playing in his first game since joining the exclusive hit club, Maryland's favorite son hit a game-winning solo home run in the ninth inning to give the Baltimore Orioles a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night before 40,077 at Camden Yards.

"It was a great way to end the night," said Ripken, who gave two curtain calls during a five-minute tribute to his latest milestone in the first inning. "The fans were great tonight, and it was nice to give them something else to cheer about… . It's been a nice couple of days."

After watching their opponents celebrate four consecutive last-at-bat wins during their disastrous road trip last week, the Orioles got to celebrate a game-ending hit of their own.

"One of the best feelings you can have is when you win the game with a home run," Ripken said. "And one of the worst feelings is being on the other side."

Leading off the ninth, Ripken turned on a 1-0 pitch from Devil Rays reliever Jim Mecir and sent it 362 feet into the left-field seats for his third homer of the season and his first hit since becoming the 24th major leaguer with 3,000 hits Saturday night in Minneapolis.

"I'm just trying to drive the ball," Ripken said. "When you're in a position to drive the ball, the home runs will come. You don't get home runs by trying to hit them."

The win was the third straight for the Orioles (8-5) and came on a night when starter Mike Mussina gave another strong performance. The bottom of the Orioles order continued to produce, but, once again, the bullpen flirted with disaster only to avoid it with clutch pitching in a bases-loaded situation.

Throughout his career, Mussina's Achilles' heel has been his tendency to give up the long ball. He's served up at least 22 home runs in a season four different times in his career, including 31 in 1996.

In his first three starts of this season, Mussina served up three home run balls. It was a figure that looked all the more ominous considering the sluggers in the heart of the Devil Rays batting order.

Sure enough, in the third inning Jose Canseco led off with a shot that cleared the left field fence. Two outs later, Vinny Castilla launched a 417-foot blast that landed in the bullpen behind center field and gave the Devil Rays a 2-0 lead.

Those were the only mistakes Mussina made, and he allowed only one more hit over the next four innings. He went eight innings, giving up six hits, three walks and striking out seven to lower his ERA to 3.41. He has yet to get a decision in four starts this year.

Meanwhile, Steve Trachsel, a pitcher the Orioles passed on during last winter's free agency period, shut down Baltimore's bats

Trachsel held the Orioles to four hits in the first six innings. The only Oriole scoring threat came in the fourth when Albert Belle hit a one-out shot to deep center field that bounced off the glove of center fielder Gerald Williams and allowed Belle to race to third.

The Orioles loaded the bases, sandwiching a pair of walks around a Cal Ripken strikeout, but Charles Johnson flied to left to end the threat.

Johnson has been one of the Orioles better clutch hitters this season and the next time he delivered the next time he came to the plate. Will Clark drew a one-out walk in the seventh the 11th free pass he's gotten in as many games this year and Johnson followed with a double that sent Clark to third.

Up stepped Mike Bordick, who had extended his hitting streak to 14 games dating back to the final game of last season with a generously scored infield single in the third.

This time, Bordick got a hit that no one could dispute. He ripped a line drive to the right center field gap for a triple that scored Clark and Johnson to make it 2-2. The two RBI gave Bordick 19 on the young season he had only seven last April tying him with Oakland's Jason Giambi for the American League lead.

Clark, Johnson and Bordick, the bottom third of the Orioles batting order, are now hitting a combined .354 for the season.

Mike Trombley replaced Mussina to start the ninth and provided flashbacks to last week's bullpen implosion when he walked the bases loaded with one out. But Trombley struck out Kevin Stocker then got Williams to ground to short to end the inning and set the stage for Ripken.

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