- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001


CHICAGO One month ago, Josh Towers was a relatively obscure rookie pitcher thrust into the Baltimore Orioles' rotation as a replacement for injured ace Pat Hentgen.

With seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox last night in the Orioles' 4-0 victory, Towers put a definitive stamp on one of the best months you'll ever see from any pitcher, let alone a rookie.

When ballots are handed out later this week for American League Rookie of the Month and Pitcher of the Month honors, Towers likely will be among the leading vote-getters. It's hard to find someone with better numbers in June.

Last night's performance the third time he hasn't allowed a run in seven career starts gave Towers a 5-1 record and 1.49 ERA for the month. Now 6-2 for the season, Towers is tied with Willis Roberts and Jason Johnson for the most victories on Baltimore's staff despite having been in the rotation for just one-third of the season.

"He's given us no reason to believe that what we are seeing is a mirage," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He goes out and competes and has a lot of confidence in what he has. Everything right now points to success for him in the future, but right now, it's still a work in progress."

A work in progress that has accounted for some of the Orioles' finest pitching performances. Combining with reliever Mike Trombley last night, Towers gave Baltimore its first back-to-back shutouts since Sept. 7-8, 1999, against the Minnesota Twins and the team's fourth of the season. Three are in games Towers started.

Five days removed from his roughest start since rejoining the Orioles on June 2, Towers was back to his old self, holding the same White Sox team that touched him for five runs last Sunday to five hits despite claiming he didn't have his best stuff.

"Honestly, I felt like last time against them I had better stuff than tonight," he said. "I really had to battle. It got to the point where I just said, 'No way are these guys beating me again.' "

He did it despite a makeshift defense that had to be rearranged shortly before game time after shortstop Brian Roberts showed up at the ballpark feeling ill. With regular Mike Bordick already on the disabled list with a separated shoulder and Brady Anderson back in Baltimore having his injured shoulder examined, Hargrove was forced to move Melvin Mora from center field to shortstop, rookie Larry Bigbie from right to center field and Jay Gibbons from the bench to left field for a rare start against a left-handed pitcher.

The defensive changes led to a few botched plays by the Orioles. Catcher Brook Fordyce skipped a throw past Mora on a stolen base attempt in the third inning, while Mora watched a ground ball go right through his legs for an error in the fifth.

Towers pitched his way out of the jams, though, getting several key double plays to halt Chicago rallies. With runners on the corners and one out in the third, Chris Singleton grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Three innings later, with runners on first and second, Towers got Carlos Lee to hit a sharp grounder to Cal Ripken, who started a 5-4-3 double play. Jose Canseco then grounded out.

"I would have liked to put runs on the board early because I knew we wouldn't get a lot of runs with the way this guy pitches," Chicago manager Jerry Manuel said. "He just attacked us with the fastball really well and made some key pitches at key times."

Towers showed no lingering signs of the hand injury when he was struck by a batted ball and forced to leave his last start prematurely. He departed after the seventh inning this time after giving up five hits and two walks.

"The hand was no factor," Towers said. "It hurt for a day, but we treated it and it was no factor today."

Trombley came in to pitch a perfect eighth and ninth to seal the shutout and give Baltimore (38-41) its fourth win in five days.

"Today was a big game for Josh because it was the second time facing the same team," said Trombley, who was credited with his sixth save. "The second time around, it's a real credit to pitch that well."

The Orioles didn't pound Chicago starter Mark Buehrle (6-4) but did manage to bunch together a few hits to take the lead. Mora led off the fourth with the first of his two doubles, stretching this one when Lee misplayed the ball in the corner. Two batters later, Jeff Conine blooped a single behind second base to score Mora.

Mora's second double, to the gap in left-center, scored Jerry Hairston from second to make it 2-0 in the fifth. The Orioles increased their lead to three runs in the seventh when Fordyce doubled to right-center, advanced to third when Buehrle slipped trying to get to Bigbie's sacrifice bunt attempt and scored on Mora's sacrifice fly to right.

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