- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

BALTIMORE Effective as he's been, Baltimore Orioles rookie pitcher Travis Driskill doesn't exactly wow opposing players the first time they face him.

The Minnesota Twins, however, learned yesterday what much of the American League has come to realize: With Driskill, looks can be deceiving.

The 31-year-old right-hander was up to his old tricks on a gorgeous afternoon at Camden Yards. He allowed seven hits in 6⅔ innings, but allowed only one run in the Baltimore Orioles' 4-1 victory.

"You've seen him enough to know that Travis is going to give up base hits," said manager Mike Hargrove said, whose club completed a three-game sweep of the first-place Twins. "But Travis has got pitches that can really fool hitters and make them look bad. And that's what he did today."

Truthfully, the Twins looked foolish all week against the upstart Orioles. The hottest team in baseball came to town with a 16-game lead in the AL Central but limped home with three straight losses, a total of seven runs scored in three days and their best pitcher (left-hander Eric Milton) on the disabled list.

They also left Baltimore with a new-found appreciation for the O's.

"They've had some guys hurt, but they have a good, young team," said right-hander Brad Radke, who gave up four runs in seven innings and took the loss. "They kind of look like us a few years ago they're growing together as a team."

The Orioles may be beginning to show progress the way the young Twins did a few years back, but they have gone about it differently. Minnesota has built itself a first-place club with a roster that advanced through the farm system together.

Baltimore, on the other hand, is loaded with players who have been discarded by other clubs. And no one fits that tag better than Driskill, the career minor-leaguer who made his debut this season and has established himself as an effective and crafty starting pitcher.

Driskill (8-5) doesn't possess the natural physical tools to dominate major-league hitters, but he does make the most of everything he has. In fact, one of his tricks strategically placing the rosin bag on the pitcher's mound, hoping it will deflect a hard grounder up the middle was taken away yesterday. Plate umpire Jim Joyce, at the behest of the Twins dugout, twice instructed Driskill to move the bag.

Driskill had plenty more tricks for the Twins, most notably a sharp split-finger fastball that he summoned several times in tough situations.

Only once in seven innings of work did he retire the side in order, which meant he spent the rest of the afternoon pitching out of trouble. The Twins were at his mercy, stranding a total of 13 runners.

"I'm going to give up hits; I don't have the dominating pitches or anything like that," said Driskill, who won for the first time at home this year. "But I have enough stuff to keep guys off-balance. If they get one hit every inning and they're all singles, and we can minimize the damage, no problem."

Minnesota out-hit Baltimore 9-6, but the Orioles made the most of their early opportunities, scoring twice in the second and twice in the fourth off Radke (4-3).

Chris Richard continued his torrid hitting streak since making his season debut July31. The designated hitter, who missed the first 103 games of the season while recovering from left shoulder surgery, belted a two-run homer in the second, his third. Richard has at least one hit in the nine games he's played and is batting a gaudy .424.

Jeff Conine has been back the last two days after missing seven weeks with a hamstring injury, but he's hit safely both times. A fourth-inning single to right yesterday scored two runs and was Conine's first RBI since coming off the DL.

That was more than enough support for Driskill and then a trio of Baltimore relievers, who twice averted disaster late in the game.

Left-hander Yorkis Perez, thrust into a set-up situation with overworked veteran Buddy Groom taking a couple of days off, walked a pair of batters in the eighth, prompting Hargrove to summon right-hander Willis Roberts from the bullpen. Roberts gave up a single to load the bases, but then got Luis Rivas to ground out to end that rally and send the game to the ninth.

Rookie closer Jorge Julio likewise got into trouble, allowing a double and a walk to bring the tying run to the plate. But after a quick mound conference with catcher Brook Fordyce, third baseman Tony Batista and pitching coach Mark Wiley (all noticed he was overthrowing), Julio finished things off. He shattered the bat of the Twins' best hitter, All-Star Torii Hunter, and induced a game-ending groundout.

"It was a little spotty at times, it was a little scary at times," Hargrove said, "but in the end, we pitched well enough to win."

Notes Jason Johnson (right shoulder tendinitis) will be activated today and will start for the Orioles at Detroit. The club did not announce a corresponding roster move yesterday, but rookie right-hander John Stephens (who gave up 13 runs in nine innings in Johnson's place) is likely headed back to Class AAA Rochester.

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