- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Jose Mercedes is, by his own admission, a superstitious man, so much so in spring training he asked Baltimore Orioles manager Mike Hargrove to switch him to the No. 4 position in the starting rotation because he has had bad luck at the No. 3 spot.
After last night's 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Mercedes was left feeling like a cursed man no matter what place he holds in the rotation.
"I can't believe how stuff happens. It's like something was made to be that way," said Mercedes, whose record plummeted to 0-6 after giving up three runs in the first inning and making one bad pitch in the eighth. "It's unbelievable: Sixth loss, one bad inning every single game. What else can I do? I just keep fighting this big inning, and it keeps following me. It's unbelievable, that's all I can say."
Just when it looked like the man who won 14 games a year ago was going to escape the funk that has plagued him since the first week of the season, Fred McGriff ensured Mercedes' nightmare would be kept alive for at least another five days.
McGriff's two-out, solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning proved to be the difference last night, sending Baltimore to its sixth straight loss and the intimate crowd of 11,078 at Tropicana Field home happy.
McGriff's opposite-field shot was shocking more for its timing than its actual outcome because Mercedes had cruised through the previous 6 2/3 innings after enduring a shaky first.
With the score tied 3-3, Mercedes struck out Ben Grieve and Greg Vaughn with some of his best pitches of the night. But after getting behind 2-1 on McGriff, the right-hander grooved a fastball over the plate and could only watch as McGriff sent it over the left-field fence.
"He was looking for that pitch, and he got what he wanted," Mercedes said. "Good for him, bad for me and for the team."
McGriff joined impressive company with the big hit. He now has homered off 300 different pitchers, a feat previously accomplished by only five others: Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Orioles great Eddie Murray.
"One of these days, they are going to wake me up and tell me it's over," McGriff said. "I'm still hanging in there."
Mercedes appeared to be on his way to another disastrous outing after one inning last night. He served up an 0-2 double to leadoff hitter Gerald Williams, then a single to Russ Johnson, a walk to Grieve and a two-run single to Vaughn. Jose Guillen's RBI single to right made it 3-0, and by the time Mercedes returned to the bench he had thrown 33 pitches and seemed destined for a short night.
"Jose was a little like a deer caught in the headlights," Hargrove said. "It looked like he didn't know which way to go or what to do."
But as the game wore on, the right-hander began to establish his fastball, something Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley have been preaching of late. After throwing the majority of his first-inning pitches in the mid-to-high 80s, Mercedes opened the third inning by striking out Vaughn on a 93 mph high fastball.
He allowed just four batters to reach base from the second through seventh innings and ended the night with seven strikeouts and a walk, pitching a complete game for the second time in three starts.
Mercedes has not looked like an 0-6 pitcher, catcher Brook Fordyce said.
"No, obviously not," Fordyce said. "He gave us a chance to win the ballgame, pitched eight strong innings. We just didn't score enough for him. I'll take that outing every time. I'm sure we'll improve and he'll get better. I like where he's at right now."
Down 3-0 from the start, the Orioles chipped away at Devil Rays right-hander Tanyon Sturtze, who made his first start of the season after 12 relief appearances. Chris Richard scored on Jay Gibbons' broken bat groundout in the second, then scored again in the fourth on a single by Fordyce.
One inning later, Brady Anderson hit a ground-rule double to left-center, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a hard groundout up the middle by Mike Bordick, tying the game 3-3.
But Tampa Bay relievers Doug Creek, Rusty Meacham (1-1) and Esteban Yan (five saves) shut Baltimore down over the final four innings without giving up a hit. In the process, the Orioles dropped to seven games under .500 for the first time this year.

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