- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

BALTIMORE Apparently the Baltimore Orioles would rather try to reach the .500 mark for the first time in three weeks by beating the three-time defending World Series champion New York Yankees than the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Given an opportunity to even their season record, something they haven't done since April 11, the Orioles morphed back into their offensively challenged selves last night during a 7-1 loss to the Devil Rays before 26,615 at Camden Yards.
Instead of entering the upcoming four-game series with the Yankees on an positive note with a three-game winning streak, Baltimore (13-15) instead finds itself needing to win either the first two or three of four from New York to get back to .500.
The latest offensively stagnant performance by the Orioles benefited Tampa Bay starter Ryan Rupe, whose third start of the year against Baltimore was his best. He was aided by Ben Grieve's four-hit, five-RBI performance and another lackluster showing by Orioles starter Jose Mercedes. A one-time Opening Day candidate after posting a 14-7 record a year ago, Mercedes is now 0-5 with a 7.54 ERA.
A victim of the big inning in his previous five starts, Mercedes managed to avoid that distinction last night. Instead, the Devil Rays dinked their way to three runs off the right-hander, rapping out nine singles before Gerald Williams doubled to lead off the seventh.
"I'm not trying to paint this a rosy picture, but I think we all need to step back and look at this for what it was," manager Mike Hargrove said of Mercedes, who ducked out of the locker room before reporters could speak to him. "It was not a bad outing… . He kept us in the ballgame; we just couldn't score any runs."
While Mercedes' numbers (6 1/3 innings, four runs, 10 hits) were hardly impressive, Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley were encouraged by what they saw. The two met with the 30-year-old pitcher after his last start in Minnesota, then Wiley met with him again before last night's game. Both wanted to see Mercedes do a better job of establishing his fastball early.
"He definitely went with what we would like to see him do," Wiley said. "He was throwing the ball well. They had to scratch those runs out."
The Orioles, meanwhile, were stymied by Rupe. The right-hander, who had given up five runs in his 11* previous innings against the Orioles, surrendered only Jay Gibbons' first career home run in the third inning.
Fielding yet another reconfigured lineup with Melvin Mora at shortstop and batting second and catcher Fernando Lunar getting his first start, the Orioles got zero production from their Nos. 1 through 6 hitters. Brady Anderson, Mora, Delino DeShields, Jeff Conine, Chris Richard and Cal Ripken were a combined 0-for-16 until Richard finally reached on an infield single in the seventh against reliever Tanyon Sturtze.
Only Gibbons, a rookie making his 16th start, could get anything going against Rupe (2-3) with his controversial home run. The left-handed hitter crushed an 0-1 pitch in the third inning down the right-field line. The ball hit the railing behind the bleachers, and first base umpire Al Clark ruled it foul.
Gibbons, who had already rounded first, threw his arms up in shock and had to be restrained by first base coach Eddie Murray while Hargrove argued the call. Clark eventually conferred with home plate umpire Rick Reed, who reversed the call and awarded the home run to Gibbons, who had to be reminded to go back and touch first base before continuing around the bases.
"I just told Al, 'Everybody but you thought it was a home run would you ask for help on this?,' " Hargrove said. "And he said he would."
Lunar and Jerry Hairston followed with singles but were stranded when Anderson, Mora and DeShields failed to advance the runners.
Otherwise, Baltimore's bats were silent. Rupe was pulled after five standout innings in favor of Sturtze. With a comfortable lead thanks to Grieve's three-run homer off Jorge Julio in the ninth inning, Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae let Sturtze stay in. He picked up his first career save after throwing four scoreless innings.


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