- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000


BALTIMORE A couple of familiar sights were on display at Camden Yards last night. Once again the Baltimore Orioles' beleaguered bullpen blew a lead. And, as he has too many times to count during his career, Cal Ripken provided the heroics for an Orioles victory.

After closer Mike Timlin blew a 2-0 lead by surrendering a two-run home run to Jay Buhner in the top of the ninth inning, Ripken countered with a two-run blast of his own in the bottom to lead the Orioles to a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in front of 37,747.

The win snapped the Orioles' (18-25) four-game skid and was just their third this month against 15 losses. The Mariners, who lead the American League West, fell to 23-19.

"When you're going through something like this, you'll take a win any way you can get one," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "A lot of times when you come out of these things, it's a night like tonight that does it. You think you've got it and all of sudden you think 'Gosh dang-it, here we go again.' And to come back the way we did, I think it showed a lot of character. And, of course, Cal being Cal."

Ripken's homer came with one out after Harold Baines failed to advance Albert Belle, who set the stage for Ripken with a bloop single.

The homer came off former Oriole Jose Mesa and was the eighth of the season for Ripken and the second time this year he ended the game with a walk-off blast. He previously had not done so since 1984.

"Jose Mesa throws 96 miles per hour. I faced him a lot in my career and he's always been a tough guy to face. But I felt good seeing the ball all night and I was able to see a ball I could hit," said Ripken. "Sunday night I was a little jumpy against Texas. Tonight I was waiting better… . I'm just trying to get a good swing on the ball and give the next guy a chance."

His homer overcame the bullpen's 13th blown save of the season and marked the first time this year the Orioles didn't lose a game in which the relievers squandered a lead.

Before Timlin blew the save, the Orioles were in position to win the game because of a strong performance from Pat Rapp, who entered the game with a 5.32 ERA but gave his best performance of the season.

The Orioles also benefited from a pair of solo homers from Brady Anderson and Baines to lead off the first two innings. Anderson's ninth homer of the season was the 39th leadoff blast of his career, second in major league history. Baines' homer gave him 1,596 career RBI, moving him ahead of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and George Brett for 23rd all-time.

Rapp, a likable Louisiana native with an accent thicker than good jambalaya, shut down the Mariners' potent bats, holding them to four hits during seven innings.

Rapp has good stuff and an array of pitches he mixes well, but his career always has been sidetracked by control problems that force him to pitch from behind too often and to give up far too many walks.

Before yesterday, Rapp had walked 23 in 45 and 2/3 innings and most of his losses came in games when he failed to get ahead of hitters. That wasn't the case last night.

He struck out Rickey Henderson to begin the first and stayed ahead most of the night as he faced only 10 batters the first three innings. He didn't walk a batter until the fourth, which, not coincidentally was the first time he faced a jam.

A one-out free pass to Alex Rodriguez was followed one batter later by a single from Edgar Martinez to put runners on the corners with two outs with free-swinging Buhner coming to the plate. But Rapp stayed calm and got Buhner to fly to right field to end the inning.

Bases on balls got Rapp into another small jam in the seventh when Buhner led off with a walk and Mike Cameron followed suit with two outs. But Rapp got Henderson to chase a slider and fly to center.

"With me it's all about location," Rapp said. "I was hitting my spots and using almost nothing but my fastball, just having it cut a lot. When I'm pitching like that, I don't have to put anything in the middle of the plate."

It was a strong end to a solid outing from Rapp, but with the state of the Orioles' bullpen, no starter's lead is ever safe.

Jason Johnson, who is moonlighting in the bullpen because of two weeks between starts, worked a scoreless eighth to set the stage for Timlin, who earned a save in Anaheim a week earlier in the Orioles' most recent win.

But Timlin showed none of the sharpness he had against the Angels and gave up a leadoff single to Martinez. Timlin got ahead of Buhner 0-2, then served a meatball that went 429 feet into the Mariners' bullpen behind center field to tie the game. Timlin gave up another single and the 2,000th walk of Henderson's career but managed to escape further damage to set the stage for Ripken's heroics.

"After giving up the home run, I just wanted to give us a chance to win," said Timlin. "My job was to get the save but I hung a slider and didn't do it. After that, I just needed to keep battling and not let things get worse."

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