- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001


DETROIT If Willis Roberts keeps pitching like this, he most certainly will make several more starts for the Baltimore Orioles in coming weeks.

However, Cal Ripken will see his playing time decrease although he hit his first home run of the season last night in the Orioles' 6-4 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Informed over the weekend by manager Mike Hargrove that he will play only "two to five games a week," Ripken made the most of what will be his only start of the series. His three-run homer down the left-field line in the fifth highlighted a five-run Baltimore inning.

"It feels good to get the monkey off your back," said Ripken, who now leads the team with nine RBI and is tied with Ernie Banks for 19th on the all-time list with 1,936 runs driven in. "You feel good that you contributed."

The line drive came off a 71-mph hanging knuckleball from Tigers starter Steve Sparks and clearly was Ripken's best-hit ball of the season. The 40-year-old third baseman was batting .154 entering last night's game and has seen his playing time diminish in an effort to get 27-year-old Mike Kinkade more at-bats.

Kinkade, batting .385, started at third Tuesday night and is expected to be there again today in the series finale.

Making his second career start in place of injured right-hander Sidney Ponson, the 25-year-old Roberts was spectacular again, shutting down the same Detroit franchise that gave up on him two years ago. He needed only 85 pitches over seven innings, giving up four hits and one run while striking out four and walking two.

In doing so, Roberts likely solidified his standing as the Orioles' No. 5 starter, meaning he will remain in the rotation even after Ponson returns from elbow tendinitis in the next week or two.

"If he stays a starter, that's fine," Hargrove said. "If he pitches like that every time out, he's going to be a great starter."

Baltimore's bullpen nearly blew it for Roberts, though, serving up three runs in a shaky eighth inning. Left-hander Buddy Groom, making his first appearance in six days after being sidelined with back spasms, gave up a single, a walk and a two-run double to Bobby Higginson.

Rookie Chad Paronto allowed another run on Deivi Cruz's high hopper over third but got Roger Cedeno to ground into a forceout to end the inning.

Ryan Kohlmeier, who held a 7.27 ERA and had allowed 21 runners to reach base in his first 8 2/3 innings, retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his fourth save and give the Orioles (10-11) their third straight victory.

Making his first start against the Tigers, who originally signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1992 and gave him his one and only major league appearance in 1999, Roberts (3-0) mixed a mid-90s fastball with a devastating split-finger fastball.

His biggest scare on a 40-degree night in front of 18,919 at Comerica Park came in the sixth, when Rob Fick's scorching line drive up the middle nearly took Roberts' head off. He managed to get his glove up and deflect the ball to second baseman Jerry Hairston, who threw to first for the out.

Roberts fell to his knees and clutched his left hand as Hargrove and trainer Richie Bancells rushed out of the dugout. After a brief exam, Roberts said he was fine and continued to pitch. Tony Clark's solo homer to right in the seventh was the only run the Tigers managed against Roberts, whose ERA actually rose .02 to 1.25.

The Orioles got only four hits off Sparks (1-2) but benefited from the knuckleballer's seven walks over the first six innings. Baltimore had already scored two runs in the fifth on four walks, a hit batsman, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly before Ripken came to the plate with two on and two out. He belted Sparks' 2-1 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole, putting the Orioles up 5-0.

Mike Bordick added an insurance run with a solo homer to lead off the ninth, his first of the season.

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