- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001


CHICAGO Lost amid the hubbub of Cal Ripken's farewell tour and a plethora of roster moves, the Baltimore Orioles managed to put together a nifty little road trip over the past week.

An 11-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox yesterday was the mere icing on the cake of a 5-2 venture through Toronto and Chicago, a trip that saw the Orioles reach the halfway point of the season with a 39-42 record and every reason to believe things will continue to improve.

"That's the biggest thing we want to get better and to keep improving each day," Jerry Hairston said. "That's been the goal since Day One."

In concluding their best road trip of the season, the Orioles slugged out 15 hits, the 11th time they've

cracked double-digits in hits in their last 17 games, and took two of three from the surging White Sox.

"I would advise not to get overly excited about it. But we've overachieved and played well and exceeded some people's expectations," said Ripken, who went 3-for-4 and scored three runs in his final game at Comiskey Park. "These last two series, you can see the potential."

Particularly on the pitching end. All five members of the starting rotation won a game during the trip, with developing staff ace Jason Johnson tossing seven standout innings yesterday to assume the team lead with seven victories.

Johnson (7-5) gave up one run and six hits, holding Chicago scoreless through six innings before surrendering back-to-back-to-back singles in the bottom of the seventh. By that time, Baltimore already owned a 9-0 lead.

"Jason was outstanding out there today," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He threw the ball really well and had all of his pitches working for him."

Spurred by his abysmal 1-10 record a year ago, Johnson has become the Orioles' most reliable pitcher, one who expects to give his team a chance to win every fifth day.

"Every time I get out there on the field, it's not, 'Boy, I hope I do well,' " said Johnson, who is seventh in the American League with a 3.41 ERA. "It's, 'How well am I going to do?' "

Less than 24 hours after getting handcuffed by White Sox pitching in a 4-1 loss, the Orioles erupted for one of their biggest offensive showings of the year. They did it with 13 singles and two doubles, spread out among every starter but Jay Gibbons. Five players had at least two hits, with Ripken and backup catcher Fernando Lunar picking up three hits apiece.

Lunar (3-for-5) has proved to be one of Baltimore's biggest surprises of late. Once thought of as a defensive specialist, Lunar has hit safely in 12 of his 16 starts this year, raising his average to .297. Yesterday, he singled in a run in the second, doubled to lead off the fifth and drove in two more runs with a single in the sixth, giving him a season-high three hits and three RBI.

"I felt good today," Lunar said. "I didn't try to do too much with the ball just try to put it in play every at-bat."

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley has spent time in the batting cage with Lunar acquired last year from the Braves nearly every day since the start of spring training. The results are beginning to show.

"When we got him, it was real obvious he needed a lot of work," Hargrove said. "But to [Lunar's and Crowley's] credit, they have been working very hard and paying attention to detail. We're starting to see the fruits of that labor."

Up 2-0, the Orioles knocked White Sox starter Rocky Biddle (1-5), who struck out the side in the first inning, from the game during a four-run sixth. They continued to pour it on against reliever Ken Vining, who gave up five runs, seven hits and four walks in two-and-a-half innings.

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