- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001


BOSTON A couple of hours before last night's game at Fenway Park, Baltimore Orioles manager Mike Hargrove sat and pondered the possibility of a second straight short outing by one of his starting pitchers.
Sidney Ponson had gone just 3 1/3 innings the day before, exposing the Orioles' six-man bullpen and leaving Willis Roberts as the only available long reliever last night against the Boston Red Sox.
So when Hargrove went to the mound to pull starter Jason Johnson in the bottom of the fifth inning, he had to be somewhat concerned about the prospects of putting the game into the hands of a 25-year-old rookie reliever.
One brilliant and possibly bullpen-saving appearance later, Roberts had proved his value to Hargrove, to the Orioles and perhaps to the two major league franchises that once gave up on him.
The fireballing right-hander tossed four scoreless innings, struck out seven and worked out of several jams to earn his first career win in Baltimore's 5-4 victory.
"He did a terrific job," pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "That was one of those games where you bend but don't break."
Roberts, who lost the spring battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to veteran Chuck McElroy, showed he could be quite effective out of the bullpen. He entered in the bottom of the fifth, after Johnson walked two straight batters, but quickly got out of the jam by inducing Jose Offerman into a 4-6-3 double play and striking out Carl Everett on a tough split-finger fastball.
"I'll work with his stuff every day," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "He hit his spots, had some nasty splits and pitched his way out of it. You tip your hat to him. It was a tough situation."
A castoff by the Cincinnati Reds' and Detroit Tigers' farm systems who signed with Baltimore as a six-year minor-league free agent, Roberts escaped from another dicey situation in the sixth. Manny Ramirez and Troy O'Leary singled to open the inning, but Roberts struck out Jason Varitek and got Shea Hillenbrand to ground into a force out. Brian Daubach walked to load the bases, but Roberts silenced the crowd of 26,302 by whiffing pinch-hitter Scott Hatteberg on a 97-mph fastball.
"When I come into a game, I do my job," said the Dominican native, who has pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings this season. "I don't mind [not starting]. I'll work in the bullpen to try to do the same thing."
Roberts' stellar effort nearly went for naught. Closer Ryan Kohlmeier came in to pitch the ninth with the Orioles up 5-3, but promptly gave up a double off the Green Monster to Daubach. Daubach then scored when Brady Anderson a defensive replacement in right field for Jeff Conine misplayed Trot Nixon's line drive, letting it go over his head for a ground-rule double.
Kohlmeier, who converted 13 of 14 saves last fall, walked Offerman, then got Everett to ground out before intentionally walking Manny Ramirez to load the bases with two outs.
Hargrove surprised some by pulling his closer in favor of Buddy Groom in order to get a lefty-lefty matchup against O'Leary. Groom made the move pay off by getting O'Leary to ground out to second, ending the game and putting the Orioles' record (4-4) back at the .500-mark.
"I didn't like the matchup with Kohlmeier [against O'Leary]," Hargrove said. "We saved Buddy in case we needed him later in the inning."
"I've been with Grover a long time, and we put people in roles," said Wiley, Hargrove's former pitching coach in Cleveland. "Everybody has their jobs, and they did them tonight."
With his team mired in a season-long offensive funk, Hargrove shook up his lineup for last night's game, a move that proved fortuitous.
Delino DeShields, batting leadoff for the first time this season, drew four straight balls off Frank Castillo (0-1) to open the game, then scored on Chris Richard's double down the right field line. Conine added an RBI single, followed by doubles from David Segui and Cal Ripken, who had combined for four hits through the first seven games of the year.
The four-run first inning proved to be Baltimore's biggest offensive outburst of the young season, though it struggled to produce much else the rest of the night. After knocking out Castillo in the fourth, the Orioles managed just one hit off relievers Pete Schourek and Rich Garces.
They found a way to add an important insurance run in the top of the ninth when Anderson singled and went all the way to third on a Nixon error in right field. Ripken drove him in with a sacrifice fly, his second RBI of the game.
The only disappointment for the Orioles was Johnson's uninspired outing. The 27-year-old right-hander had looked sharp in all six of his spring training starts, then pitched 8 1/3 strong innings in his regular-season debut last Thursday against the Red Sox.
But Johnson looked out of sync from the start last night, giving up three runs on six hits with three walks before being pulled in the bottom of the fifth.
"I thought he overthrew everything," Hargrove said. "He didn't relax. He tried to be too nasty, and he doesn't have to be."

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