- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

NEW YORK It could be just one win in an otherwise ordinary season. But then again, what happened yesterday at Yankee Stadium could have been the kind of galvanizing, confidence-boosting spark that helps make the Baltimore Orioles a legitimate playoff contender.

It wasn't just that the Orioles defeated the New York Yankees 7-6 before a vociferous crowd of 52,559, it was how the Orioles defeated the World Series champs.

"This gives us a lot of confidence," said catcher Charles Johnson of a win that snapped a four-game losing streak. "It's only one game, obviously, but it's the kind of win we can take a lot of confidence from. They've got a very good team and it would have been easy to quit when we got behind but we kept battling. We got some big, key performances from some guys that can carry us a long way. This is the kind of win we can build on but now we have to go out and do it."

As if on cue, the Orioles (16-14) bullpen blew yet another hard-earned lead on the road, squandering another strong performance from one of the starters.

But this time the lead was blown in the eighth inning, leaving the Orioles a breath of hope and they capitalized with four hits off the best closer in baseball.

The decisive blow was struck by struggling slugger Albert Belle, who has rarely delivered clutch hits in his one-plus seasons with the Orioles. Belle's two-run single with two outs in the top of the ninth gave the Orioles a 7-6 lead.

Then the Orioles turned the game over to struggling closer Mike Timlin, whose doubters have grown along with his earned run average this season. Two days after blowing a save against the Yankees (20-9), Timlin confidently and angrily shut them down to allow the Orioles to escape from New York with one win.

"If you're only going to win one game in a series, you want to win the last one because you leave feeling good," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, whose team begins a three-game series in Toronto tonight. "It was a big day for [Timlin] and our ball club. He had [attitude]. That's what you want from your closer."

Timlin was visibly upset Friday after he was pulled in the ninth inning after he gave up a leadoff homer and a single that became the tying run in the Yankees' 12-10 win. Afterward, he sought out Hargrove in his office, where they talked about Timlin's status. Hargrove assured Timlin he was still his closer but said he wanted to see more fire in his belly.

"We just talked," Timlin said of his meeting with Hargrove. "I wasn't angry … We just talked things out and he let me know what he wanted from me. It was very beneficial."

Timlin walked to the mound yesterday with an 8.10 ERA but determined to throw strikes. Unfortunately, the first one he threw ended up in center field in the form of a Jorge Posada single.

However, Timlin didn't blink. He then struck out Shane Spencer. That brought up Scott Brosius, whose grand slam an inning earlier put the Yankees up 6-4. But Timlin defiantly struck him out while Posada tried to steal second. Catcher Charles Johnson gunned down Posada to end the game.

"That was very big for me and for the rest of the bullpen. I'm glad I could pick those guys up," Timlin said. "But the hitters did all the work. I just got three outs."

The Orioles hitters gave the team a 4-2 lead thanks to a pair of homers by Cal Ripken and Delino DeShields and two RBI from Harold Baines. But B.J. Ryan put the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning on base and his replacement, Mike Trombley, gave up a walk and the slam to Brosius to put the Yankees up 6-4.

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera entered the game with 11 saves, leading a bullpen that hadn't lost a game all year. But Johnson hit a one-out single and Brady Anderson and DeShields followed with hits to score Johnson and cut the lead to 6-5.

Up came Belle, who was hitless for the day and had only 15 RBI this season despite batting in the cleanup spot. The Orioles $13 million man worked the count to 2-2 before he singled up the middle to let Anderson and DeShields scurry home.

"That was a really clutch hit against a great pitcher," Johnson said.

The early story of the game was Orioles starter Sidney Ponson, who flirted with perfection as he retired the first 11 Yankees. Paul O'Neill ended things when he hit a come-backer that bounced off Ponson's glove and left shortstop Mike Bordick no chance to throw out O'Neill.

Losing the perfect game appeared to unsettle Ponson, who then walked Bernie Williams on four pitches and gave up a bloop single to Tino Martinez, which scored O'Neill. After walking Posada to load the bases, Ponson was bailed out by Ripken, who made a diving stop on a Spencer grounder and threw him out from his knees.

"The first three innings, that's as good as I've ever seen him pitch," Hargrove said.

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