- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

BALTIMORE Jose Mercedes is the Baltimore Orioles' most successful pitcher and perhaps their biggest afterthought.

The Dominican began the season as the club's No. 5 starter thanks to injuries and a disappointing showing by other prospects. The 29-year-old right-hander was demoted to the bullpen twice this season and only returned to the rotation after Scott Erickson went on the disabled list two weeks ago.

However, the right-hander has made most of his unusual season, and last night was no different as he pitched eight solid innings to lead the Orioles to an 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox before 40,047 at Camden Yards. Mercedes (8-4), the only Orioles pitcher with a winning record, has won five straight decisions and has gone at least seven innings in each of those victories. In his longest outing of the season last night he allowed one run and seven hits while striking out nine.

Mercedes, who began the year with only 11 major league victories, has more wins than ace Mike Mussina (7-12) and a third of the losses. It has not hurt that Mercedes has gotten proper run support. He was spotted four runs in the first inning last night and took care of the rest himself. Mercedes never got himself into any major jams and mixed in his offspeed pitches to keep the White Sox off-balance.

The Orioles (52-65) began an eight-game homestand with an easy victory over the American League Central leaders. Baltimore, which came into game tied for the league's worst record, looked more like a club poised for the postseason than the White Sox (70-48), who have the best record in the American League.

Baltimore rattled Chicago starter Mike Sirotka (10-10) from the start as Jerry Hairston led off with a home run. The Orioles went up 7-0 in the third on the first home run of Luis Matos' career. And Chicago looked flat in the field as it committed two errors to start the four-game series.

Catcher Brook Fordyce had an impressive game against his former team. Fordyce, who was acquired in the deal that sent Charles Johnson and Harold Baines to the White Sox, went 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs scored and an RBI.

Fordyce is in a strange situation playing against his former club. Since he spent most of the season in Chicago, he is entitled to a share of their playoff money if they reach the postseason.

"I, obviously, want them to go out and be the best they can and win it," Fordyce said before the game. "But for the next four days, I want them to lose. But then, I want them to win it all."

The Orioles took control of the game in the first inning. Hairston launched a 2-1 fastball into the left-field seats during his first at-bat at Camden Yards this season. Hairston, who was recently promoted from Class AAA Rochester, has a flair for thrilling debuts. The promising second baseman hit his first homer of the season in his first at-bat after being called up the minors in last Friday's game in Kansas City.

Baltimore built on Hairston's start. It batted around in the inning to take advantage of an ineffective Sirotka, who allowed four hits and two walks before the damage was done. After Hairston's blast, Melvin Mora singled and stole second before scoring on a one-out double by Albert Belle. Belle later scored on Brook Fordyce's single, and Ryan Minor added an RBI single to make it 4-0.

The Orioles padded the lead to 7-0 in the third on Matos' home run. The speedy center fielder, who came into the game batting .202, took the first pitch from Sirotka over the left-field fence for a three-run homer. The line drive went 384 feet and came after Fordyce walked and Minor reached on an error.

The White Sox finally scored in the sixth after Jose Valentin doubled to right and scored on Magglio Ordonez's single. Minor made it 8-1 in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly to knock in Fordyce, who reached on a poorly played triple.

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