- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2001


BALTIMORE As bewildering as the Baltimore Orioles' recent slide of 16 losses in 17 games was, the events of the past three days might qualify as even more inconceivable.

It's not just that the Orioles have responded from their worst stretch of the season by winning three straight games. And it's not the fact that the last two victories including yesterday's 11-2 win at Camden Yards have come against the almighty New York Yankees despite starting a pair of pitchers with a combined three games of major league experience.

No, jaw-dropping as that may be, consider that the Orioles have now scored 30 runs in three days after crossing home plate a total of 29 times in their previous 17 games.

"Baseball's a game of cycles," manager Mike Hargrove said. "You're going to have bad cycles and good cycles. Hopefully, we've come out of that and we'll be more consistent scoring runs the rest of the way."

Baltimore's sudden resurgence a 12-6 win at Toronto on Thursday, a 7-6 win over the Yankees on Friday and yesterday's victory before a sellout crowd of 47,068 is practically miraculous given its prolonged offensive funk over the past month that has seen the franchise plummet to depths not reached in more than a decade.

Before turning things around three days ago, the Orioles had fallen 35 games below .500 for the first time since 1988 (when they finished 54-107), held the major leagues' worst team batting average (.248) and needed to win eight of their last 18 games to avoid a 100-loss season.

A triple-digit figure in the loss column is still quite possible, but at least Baltimore can say with some confidence that the worst is behind it.

"We've got people in our lineup who can do the job," Hargrove said. "We just need things to break our way to do things occasionally and take advantage of them. We've really been able to do that in the last three ballgames."

The player who most took advantage of run-producing situations yesterday, of all people, was rookie catcher Geronimo Gil, who collected a career-high three hits and five RBI to pace the Orioles' attack.

A relatively obscure player acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July with pitcher Kris Foster for Mike Trombley, Gil doubled in a run in the third, singled in two more in the fourth and capped his day with another two-run single in the eighth. All three hits came with two outs.

"I feel happy about what I did to help the team win the ballgame," the Spanish-speaking Gil said through interpreter and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks.

Given the season-long struggles behind the plate of both Brook Fordyce and Fernando Lunar, Hargrove plans to give Gil plenty of opportunities down the stretch with an eye toward next season.

"He calls a good ballgame, handles the pitchers well. And he's not afraid to swing the bat," Hargrove said. "We've got to find out about him, see what we've got. So far, so good."

Gil was hardly on his own against Yankees pitchers Sterling Hitchcock and Brandon Knight, who combined to give up nine runs and 14 hits in four innings. Every starter but leadoff hitter Luis Matos hit safely yesterday for Baltimore, and all but Matos and Jeff Conine picked up at least two hits, including Cal Ripken, who batted cleanup for the first time since Sept. 23, 2000.

The Orioles' five-run third inning, which knocked Hitchcock (3-4) out of the game, allowed rookie starter Sean Douglass to pitch under relatively pressure-free circumstances, and the 22-year-old right-hander rose to the occasion.

Making his second career start he struggled through an unimpressive debut July 18 against the Texas Rangers Douglass (1-1) was perfect for 3? innings yesterday and departed in the sixth having allowed just one run (Chuck Knoblauch's solo homer) and three hits.

In earning his first career victory (the record seventh Baltimore pitcher to accomplish that feat this season), Douglass made good on his promise to Hargrove after his first start: He would be better the next time out.

"He told the truth," Hargrove said. "I saw a guy who had a better idea of how he wanted to pitch, a guy who had a better idea of what it takes to pitch effectively in the big leagues."

Douglass' strong outing, which was closed out in equally strong fashion by left-handers John Bale and John Parrish, came one night after fellow rookie Rick Bauer shut the Yankees down over seven innings. And it ensured at least one more opportunity in the coming weeks to state his case for a rotation spot next spring.

"Last time, I told everybody that they hit me around a little bit, but I'd seen what it takes to pitch in the majors," Douglass said. "Everything was better this time around. I knew I had a bad game last time, but even after a bad game, I knew I could pitch here."

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