- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001


BOSTON As a collective unit, the Baltimore Orioles have little left to play for in the season's final two weeks, short of the ever-enthralling effort to avoid 100 losses.

As individuals, though, most members of the Orioles roster can claim to be motivated by one factor or another as one of the franchise's more forgettable seasons approaches the finish line.

To that end, last night's 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox carried with it some importance for a number of Baltimore players who recognize time is running out to make a personal statement this year while at the same time helping the team's overall cause.

"Each player, each team, each organization has its own motivation," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Our motivation since Day 1 has been to make this team of championship-caliber again. We've tried real hard not to lose sight of that and the realities of the situation we are in. Hopefully, we're a better ballclub at the end of the season than we were when we started."

Some players like Calvin Maduro, who pitched six solid innings and earned his first win in nearly a month, are stating their case for a permanent spot in next season's starting rotation.

Making his 10th start, Maduro (4-6) breezed through the Boston lineup with relative ease, much as he did in his last victory Aug. 31 against the Seattle Mariners. Aside from a leadoff home run to Trot Nixon in the fourth inning, Maduro was virtually untouchable, scattering three more hits over the rest of his outing.

After impressing the Baltimore brass with four straight quality starts in late July and early August, Maduro had been faltering of late, losing three of his last four decisions. Two more performances like last night's could be enough to make the 27-year-old right-hander, who has long had Hargrove's support, the prohibitive favorite for the No. 5 spot in next year's rotation.

"Every start I go out there is for next year," Maduro said. "You still try to help this team this year, but in a way I'm still proving that I want a shot next year."

For rookies like Geronimo Gil and Larry Bigbie, these last two weeks provide an opportunity to legitimize themselves as big league ballplayers heading into their sophomore seasons. Both are getting significant playing time down the stretch as the Baltimore coaching staff evaluates their merits as potential 25-man roster members.

Gil, a husky catcher acquired at the trading deadline from the Dodgers, will in particular be given a close look over the next two weeks as the Orioles search for a solution to their catching woes. Coming off a five-RBI game Saturday against the Yankees, Gil went 1-for-4 with an RBI last night and continued to impress with his game-calling abilities.

Hargrove was quick to commend the young catcher for his handling of Jason Johnson on Sunday, saying Gil looked to the dugout for a pitch selection just once. He showed those qualities again last night in guiding Maduro and three relievers to victory.

Bigbie has been wearing an Orioles uniform longer than Gil, having made three major-league stints this season. During that time he has shown some pop in his bat and above-average defensive skills in the outfield.

Last night, he set a career-high with three hits in four at-bats, drawing a walk and scoring Baltimore's fourth run.

"Circumstances might not put us in the playoff race, but you still want to play," Bigbie said. "You want to end on a positive note going into spring training. It's a great opportunity to see what I can do, and it's definitely a motivation for me."

Unlike his rookie counterparts, 27-year-old Tony Batista isn't fighting for a roster spot, but he is trying to prove to the Orioles that he is a worthy heir to Cal Ripken at third base. He has far from solidified his standing since joining the team in late June, batting .251 with 10 homers and 33 RBI.

But Batista's past record (notably his 41-homer season with the Blue Jays in 2000) will make him the front-runner to assume Ripken's place in the field upon the Iron Man's retirement. And three-hit efforts like last night's, which included a double off Fenway Park's Green Monster, only help Batista state his case.

Brady Anderson, too, has proven himself over the years, only to struggle this year through far-and-away his worst professional season. With a batting average stuck under the .200-mark nearly the entire year, Anderson's mission over the next two weeks is clear: End strong to avoid the ultimate embarrassment of finishing below the Mendoza line.

A two-hit effort last night, including an RBI-single in the sixth that proved to be the game-winner, left Anderson closer to his goal with 13 games to go.

Notes Hargrove said he would be surprised if rookie outfielder Willie Harris, suffering from a pulled groin, returns to play this season. Harris, a September call-up, injured himself running from first to third on a Jeff Conine single during Friday night's game against the Yankees… .

The Orioles arrived in Boston exhausted after they played a 4-hour, 14-minute game against the Yankees Sunday night. They saw their travel plans squashed by fog throughout New England and then, unable to land in Boston, the team charter touched down in Hartford, Conn., some 100 miles away. The Orioles then had to wait about two hours for their bus to arrive and finally boarded it at 4:45 a.m. They checked into their Boston hotel around 7 a.m.

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