- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

BALTIMORE Makeup games between two sub-.500 teams on a steamy, late-August night don't usually garner much attention. That would explain why last night's paid attendance of 21,447 was the smallest in 11 seasons at Camden Yards.

And since this Thursday night contest between the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays was also a makeup for an April 9 rainout, even fewer fans were actually in attendance.

Which was a shame, really, because those who did show saw a sparkling ballgame that featured two brief bids at no-hitters, several outstanding defensive plays and some extra-inning heroics. It all added up to a satisfying 3-2, 11-inning victory for the Orioles, who pulled off their second walk-off win against Tampa Bay in three nights.

Tony Batista's single through the left-side hole scored Jerry Hairston with the game-winner, but the biggest play might well have been Hairston's scamper down the first-base line to beat out a grounder to third to start the inning.

Hairston, who had homered and bunted for a single earlier in the game, hit a sharp grounder to third. Tampa Bay's Jared Sandberg dived to stop the ball and fired to first, but Hairston's headfirst slide narrowly beat the throw.

"Jared Sandberg made a great play," Hairston said. "As soon as he caught it, I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I had to get on my high horse to get over there."

Gary Matthews Jr. singled to left to put runners on first and second, and Batista rapped the game-winner through the hole off Travis Harper (5-7).

Jorge Julio (5-5) earned the victory for the Orioles in their 19th and final game of the year against the Devil Rays, giving Baltimore a 10-9 advantage.

"We never had an easy game against these guys," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.

Baltimore starter John Stephens had to be at least slightly worried about reverting back to the pitcher who made his major league debut 24 days ago at Tampa Bay. On that forgettable night, the 22-year-old right-hander was tagged for nine runs and 10 hits by the worst-hitting team in baseball.

Of course, the rookie Australian probably felt like he was back in the minors when he saw the size of the crowd last night. The official tally was slightly below the previous low of 21,748 for a make-up game against the Texas Rangers on June 20, 1996 but with plenty of no-shows the true attendance figure might not have been much more than in some Class AAA towns.

Stephens retired the first six batters, four on strikeouts. He walked John Flaherty to lead off the third, but retired the next nine Devil Rays to carry a no-hitter into the sixth.

However, Stephens had thrown a lot of pitches, and the toll began to show in the sixth. Chris Gomez led off the inning by corking a hanging curveball down the left-field line and just inside the foul pole.

Brent Abernathy followed with a liner to left that was headed for extra bases until Melvin Mora made a spectacular, diving catch against the line. Carl Crawford later singled to left, and though Stephens got out of the inning without any more damage, he entered the seventh on somewhat shaky ground.

"It was real obvious after the first couple of hitters that he was gassed," said Hargrove, who noted that Stephens is held to a 100-pitch limit. "But he was outstanding tonight. He baffled a lot of people."

When Stephens walked Jared Sandberg to lead the inning off, the Orioles bullpen sprang to life. And when Sandberg stole second and then scored on Steve Cox's base hit, Stephens night came to an abrupt halt. He departed to a standing ovation, having allowed two runs on three hits while throwing 111 pitches.

Tampa Bay starter Jorge Sosa matched Stephens pitch for pitch early on and carried his own no-hit bid before Jeff Conine's leadoff gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead.

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