- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

ORIOLES 6, DEVIL RAYS 5

BALTIMORE After a wretched month of July, the Baltimore Orioles couldn't have asked for a better start to August.
Jerry Hairston launched a two-run homer off Esteban Yan with one out in the ninth inning, capping a furious comeback as the Orioles stunned the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 6-5 before an ecstatic Camden Yards crowd of 33,618 last night.
Trailing 5-3 entering the inning and seemingly headed for their 22nd loss in 27 games, Baltimore stormed back to score three runs off Yan (3-4) and snap an 0-59 record in games it trailed after eight innings.
"I can't believe I hit it," said Hairston, who jumped into the air upon making contact and pumped his fists as he rounded the bases. "Something finally went our way as a ballclub."
Not much has gone right for the slumping Orioles in the last month. After feasting on sub-.500 competition for a 29-19 record through the first half of the season, Baltimore was a dismal 3-11 against the Texas Rangers, Anaheim Angels and Devil Rays in the last two weeks.
Hairston nearly spurred a ninth-inning comeback Tuesday night only to watch Tampa Bay left fielder Jason Tyner make a sliding catch of his sinking line drive to end the game and secure the Devil Rays' 5-4 victory. Given another chance against Yan with the game on the line last night, Hairston who said he had never hit a game-winning homer provided the Orioles' most dramatic moment of the season.
"You guys understand how we've been playing in the last month," he said. "Things haven't gone our way. Yesterday if that ball drops, we tie the game up. It's just good to see something go our way."
Hairston's homer would merely have tied the game if not for Tony Batista's solo shot to start the rally. The Baltimore designated hitter connected on a 1-2 fastball from Yan with one out for his team-leading 18th home run, making it 5-4.
"I hit it pretty good, but I didn't know if it was going to be out," Batista said. "Every team goes into the ninth inning thinking you can win. It's a great feeling."
Pinch hitter Larry Bigbie set the stage for Hairston by reaching first when shortstop Chris Gomez tripped over his own feet on a grounder. Baltimore's No. 9 hitter then clubbed Yan's 0-1 fastball over the left-field fence, bringing the entire Orioles bench onto the field in celebration.
"Jerry is not a home run hitter," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He has the pop in his bat to hit a home run when the ball is in his area, but Jerry is a line-drive hitter."
Alan Mills (1-1) was the surprising winning pitcher after tossing just one-third of an inning in relief.
Until the ninth-inning heroics, Baltimore had accumulated little offense against Devil Rays pitchers Ryan Rupe, Victor Zambrano and Doug Creek, who combined to give up four hits through the first eight innings.
Rupe shut the Orioles out for five innings, but Baltimore finally got to the right-hander in the sixth, though it came via the benefit of two Devil Rays errors. Brian Roberts walked and Melvin Mora reached on third baseman Aubrey Huff's error, bringing up Jeff Conine with two on and two out. The Orioles' season leader in batting average and RBI, who survived Tuesday's trading deadline without being moved, once again came through in the clutch by lacing a two-run double to left-center.
Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae called upon Zambrano to face Jay Gibbons, who slapped the first pitch through the left-side hole. Conine raced around third but had the luxury of easing up after Tyner misplayed the ball for the Devil Rays' second error of the inning.
Baltimore starter Jason Johnson, who entered the game with a 3.14 ERA, second best in the American League to Minnesota's Joe Mays (3.13), didn't dazzle the Devil Rays but wasn't ineffective either. The right-hander, who was seeking to become the first Oriole to reach double digits in victories this year, allowed four runs (three earned) and seven hits in seven innings. Johnson has won just once in his last four outings despite a 3.00 ERA.

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