- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Like most major league managers, Mike Hargrove plays the percentages more often than not. So when Tampa Bay's Ben Grieve came to the plate with two outs and two on in the eighth inning of a tie game yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles' skipper summoned a left-hander from his bullpen.
Conventional wisdom says Buddy Groom, a veteran of nine seasons, was a no-brainer to come in and face Grieve. The numbers on Hargrove's stat sheet, however, said otherwise. Grieve is 3-for-6 with an RBI in his career against Groom, hardly a large statistical sample but enough to convince Hargrove not to use his best left-hander with the game on the line.
Thus, the crucial at-bat of yesterday's game at Tropicana Field fell upon the 23-year-old shoulders of Erik Bedard, the Orioles' best pitching prospect but a future starter who has spent all of six days in Baltimore's bullpen.
With the count 1-1 on Grieve, the 1998 American League Rookie of the Year with Oakland, Bedard left a slider up over the plate. Grieve dropped a single down the right-field line, Jason Tyner scored from second and the Devil Rays hung on for a 2-1 victory.
"I've been a starter, but that's not really an excuse," said Bedard, who retired two of three batters in his major league debut Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. "I should have buried [the pitch down in the strike zone], but I hung it over the plate."
With that one pitch, the Orioles' chances for their first three-game sweep since the final weekend of the 2000 season went down the drain, as did a brilliant pitching performance from starter Sidney Ponson.
Ponson picked up right where he left off from his previous start against the Yankees (in which he retired 13 of his last 16 batters but received no decision). Seeking his first win since June 28, the right-hander allowed one run on four hits through seven innings and was sent back out to start the eighth with the game still tied.
After striking out Bobby Smith and Felix Escalona to open the inning, Ponson gave up back-to-back singles to Tyner and Randy Winn, forcing Hargrove to call upon Bedard to face Grieve.
"Ben is a very, very dangerous hitter when he's swinging the bat well," Hargrove said. "And he's swinging the bat well right now. Even though he's hitting pretty good off left-handers, the lefty-lefty matchup is still in favor of the pitcher. So we went with Bedard."
Three pitches later, Grieve connected with Bedard's hanging slider for what would be the game-winning hit.
"He's their best hitter," Bedard said, "and he got the job done."
The Orioles got little done offensively against a pair of young Tampa Bay pitchers. Delvin James, making his second career start, allowed just three hits (two of them back-to-back doubles by Tony Batista and Marty Cordova in the fourth) before leaving the game with two outs in the sixth after straining a muscle in his right hip.
Reliever Jesus Colome took over for James and struck out four in two innings. Left-hander Doug Creek (1-0) retired Jay Gibbons with two on and two out in the eighth to earn the win, and Esteban Yan pitched a perfect ninth for his third save.
In the process, Ponson (0-2) failed to earn a win for the 14th straight start.
"It wasn't Sidney's fault today," Gibbons said. "He pitched excellent, had good command and worked quickly. We just couldn't get him runs. It was a shame."
Notes Orioles infielder/outfielder Melvin Mora left the team before yesterday's game after learning his brother died over the weekend in Venezuela.
Details were sketchy, with Mora not even sure whether his brother died or was killed. He received a call from his wife, Gisel, about two hours before yesterday's game, then boarded a plane for Miami to meet his sister. The two were then due to fly to Valencia, Venezuela.
The Orioles are hopeful Mora will return in time for tomorrow's game against the Red Sox at Camden Yards, though given the current unrest and travel restrictions in Venezuela, that may be an optimistic prediction. Mora was slated to start at shortstop yesterday; Mike Bordick replaced him in the lineup, and Jerry Hairston returned to the leadoff spot for the first time in 10 games.
The Orioles will shake up their starting rotation for this week's series against Boston. With an off-day today, Hargrove is bypassing Josh Towers' spot, meaning Scott Erickson will start tomorrow's series opener. The rest of the week is still undecided, with the possibility that rookie Rodrigo Lopez could work his way into the rotation in place of Towers (who is 0-3 with a 5.59 ERA) or Calvin Maduro (1-1, 5.06).

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