- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001


TORONTO Welcome to the Baltimore Orioles, Tony Batista, where your offensive prowess has the good folks at the B&O; Warehouse rejoicing over what may become one of the biggest steals in franchise history.

Plucked off the waiver wire from the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday for the pocket-change price of $25,000, Batista gave the Orioles exactly what they were looking for last night in his second game with the club: lots of offense.

Playing in the same stadium and against the same team that made him into an All-Star, Batista went 3-for-4, came within a triple of hitting for the cycle and launched the decisive two-run homer in Baltimore's 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

With Batista's bat, plus Jose Mercedes' third straight win, the Orioles moved back within a game of third-place Toronto, with a chance to draw even in the series finale this afternoon at SkyDome.

Batista didn't look all that comfortable in his Orioles debut Tuesday night, adjusting to a new uniform and a new batting stance one far more closed than the exaggerated open one he has used the last three years. Consequently, he finished the night 0-for-3 after a long day spent bouncing from interview to interview.

With the jitters of his first game behind him, though, Batista was free to go about his normal business last night. Serving as designated hitter and batting eighth, the 27-year-old roped a double to left-center in his first at-bat, then grounded out to shortstop the next time up before stepping to the plate again in the top of the sixth.

With Cal Ripken, the man he'll replace at third base next season, on first after drawing a one-out walk, Batista worked the count to 3-2. Blue Jays right-hander Esteban Loaiza (5-8) went with the scouting report and fired an outside fastball to Batista, who still managed to turn on the ball and send a gasp through the SkyDome crowd.

Batista's 14th home run of the year, tops on the Orioles, sailed over the Toronto bullpen in left field, putting Baltimore ahead 5-3. It also prompted a noticeable ovation from the crowd of 17,517, many of whom stood on their feet to salute the ex-Blue Jay.

The rally didn't end there. Brook Fordyce, stuck in a 2-for-24 slump, followed with a single up the middle. Jerry Hairston then drew a walk, and following a groundout that advanced the runners to second and third, David Segui drove a two-run single to left field, giving the Orioles a four-run lead.

Mercedes (4-8) continued his recent turnaround, giving manager Mike Hargrove his third straight "quality" start after opening the season 1-8.

The right-hander's winning streak coincides with his switch to a more compact pitching windup. Since his 10-7 win in Philadelphia two Sundays ago, Mercedes is delivering the ball to the plate without first bringing his hands together over his head as he did in his first 13 starts. Mercedes is 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA in his last three starts.

"His tempo's picked up a little bit," Hargrove said. "There are a lot of small things that he's doing [differently]. It just took a little while to get it going."

The night didn't begin well for Mercedes, who gave up two singles and two walks leading to two runs in the second inning. Raul Mondesi then single-handedly scored the Blue Jays' third run by blooping a double in between center fielder Melvin Mora and second baseman Hairston to lead off the third, stealing third with a huge jump and then racing home when Mercedes' wild pitch skipped between Fordyce's legs.

After that, Mercedes recorded 15 straight outs, retiring Toronto in order in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings before longtime Toronto favorite Tony Fernandez sent a pinch-hit single with one out in the eighth.

Mercedes gave way to reliever Buddy Groom after recording the second out in the eighth, finishing his night having given up three runs and five hits in 7 1/2 innings. Groom closed out the game with 1 1/2 scoreless innings.

Baltimore put up three early runs of its own, when Ripken singled and later scored on a wild pitch in the second, and Conine belted a two-run shot to right-center in the third.

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