- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

DETROIT (AP) Steve Sparks throws a fastball that rarely tops 75 mph. That's good enough to make his knuckleball effective.
Sparks allowed four hits in seven-plus innings as the Detroit Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 yesterday.
Damian Jackson and George Lombard had RBI singles for the Tigers, who sent Baltimore to its fourth loss in 11 games.
"Right now I'm not having to think about my mechanics, and it's nice to just go out there and concentrate on the hitters and changing speeds," Sparks said. "The thing that alerted me I was off is I was having trouble throwing my fastball in bullpen work. I had to regain my [arm] slot."
Sparks (7-11) earned his second straight victory with a knuckleball that usually fluttered in around 65 mph and kept the Orioles completely off-balance. The right-hander has won three of four starts after losing five of his previous six decisions.
"Once you get in a good groove with that pitch you can find your arm slot," Sparks said.
Tigers manager Luis Pujols said Sparks' pitch location has improved significantly.
"The difference I see is every knuckleball he throws now, instead of up, it's down," Pujols said. "I think he threw only one high all day."
Sparks cruised through the first seven innings, allowing only a two-out double by Jerry Hairston in the third and Marty Cordova's two-out single in the fourth.
"There's usually no 'tweeners' with [knuckleballers]. They're usually on or they're off," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "It was obvious Sparks was on today."
The Orioles, who used an eighth-inning rally to win 3-2 Saturday, almost did it again.
Luis Lopez led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single and Hairston doubled again, with Lopez scoring on center fielder Wendell Magee's throwing error.
Oscar Henriquez came in and retired his first two batters before two walks loaded the bases. Cordova hit an 0-2 curveball hard to left field but right at Bobby Higginson.
"That won the game right there," said Tigers closer Juan Acevedo, who worked a perfect ninth for his 22nd save in 26 chances. "Sparks pitched well for seven innings and deserved the win, but [Henriquez] won the game right there."
John Stephens (0-2) had the best of his three big league starts but was touched for single runs in the first two innings. Stephens also kept the hitters off-balance with a fastball that averaged around 85 mph and changeups in the mid-60s.
"I was just hitting my spots and mixing it up," Stephens said. "They weren't adjusting that well, so I kept doing what I was doing."
Stephens gave up seven hits, with six strikeouts and no walks in seven innings.
"I thought John threw well enough to win today," Hargrove said. "Of the three outings, today was by far the best. He changed speeds well, he threw the fastball in a lot better and commanded it better. He played well enough to win. The sad thing is the other guy did, too."
Jackson, who started as regular second baseman Damion Easley got a day off, had an RBI single in the first and made several fine plays in the field.
"Every time he gets a chance to play, he plays well," Pujols said.
Jackson made a diving stop and threw out Chris Richard to end the Orioles' fourth, then ran behind the mound to cut off Jose Leon's slow roller and made an across-the-body throw to retire him leading off the fifth.
Lombard scored on Jackson's single after he led off the first with a single and stole second.
Lombard made it 2-0 in the second with an RBI single.

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