- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. There is a theory in baseball that a bench-clearing brawl can at times inject some life into a sluggish ballclub, providing for 25 players added motivation to bond as one.

The Baltimore Orioles must have been hoping Sunday's fracas at Fenway Park did something to wake them up, because the prospect of a four-game series at mausoleum-like Tropicana Field alone sure wasn't going to do anything to increase their energy level.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, the Boston brawl appeared to do little to boost their spirits. And a 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night only made matters worse.

At the conclusion of one of his team's most lifeless performances of the year, manager Mike Hargrove held a 10-minute, closed-door meeting that became animated on more than one occasion.

"I've already talked to them," Hargrove said afterward. "I guess you could say 'talked' to them. Physically, the effort was there. Mentally, I don't think we showed up. We could have been better. We should have been better. We're better than that."

The players took Hargrove's words to heart.

"He was right," first baseman Jay Gibbons said. "The last few games we've been flat. There hasn't been as much emotion as there's been all year. We've been a pretty fiery team all year, and for whatever reason we've been a little flat lately."

Losers in six of their last seven games and 11 of 17 since the All-Star break, the Orioles are closing out the month of July in tenuous fashion. Even worse, they're only four games into an 11-game, three-city trip.

One night after slugging it out with the Red Sox (in the fourth-inning brawl, not on the scoreboard), Baltimore didn't put up much of a fight against the last-place Devil Rays, right-hander Paul Wilson or the lifeless crowd of 10,340.

Against the rest of the American League, Wilson lives up to his billing as the underachieving former No.1 pick of the 1994 draft. Against the Orioles, he's a reincarnation of Cy Young.

Wilson has made 20 starts this season. He has lost seven times, received a no-decision 10 times and earned three wins. All three have come against the Orioles, during which time he has given up three earned runs in 22 innings.

Wilson was at his usual Baltimore-beating best last night, allowing all of one run and four hits in eight innings. He looked shaky just once, giving up a fifth-inning double to Chris Singleton and an RBI single to Jerry Hairston. Otherwise, Wilson was brilliant, walking two and striking out four to earn his first victory since May12, when he beat (of course) Baltimore.

"Every time Paul has thrown against a team I've been with, he's thrown well," Hargrove said. "He commands his pitches, and he can be very effective."

Despite producing little offense, the Orioles still managed to stay in last night's game because of Tampa Bay's inability to take full advantage of a 17-hit effort.

"It could have been a lot worse than 6-1," Hargrove said.

The Devil Rays' lack of clutch hitting they were an atrocious 4-for-19 with runners in scoring position and stranded 16 runners, tying the club record for a nine-inning game helped make Travis Driskill's poor outing look better on the surface than it really was.

Since opening his major league career a stunning 5-0, Driskill has fallen on hard times. He entered last night's game with four losses in five starts and gave every indication early on that this would be another struggle.

Driskill threw 114 pitches, a full night's work. Unfortunately, he did so in only slightly more than four innings, hardly long enough to warrant such a high pitch count.

The Devil Rays touched Driskill for 10 hits in his four-plus innings of work yet managed to score just three runs off him. They left the bases loaded in the first, third and fifth innings, though they did push across a pair of runs in the third and one more in the fifth.

By the time Driskill (6-5) opened the fifth by giving up back-to-back singles, Hargrove had seen enough. He pulled the 30-year-old rookie, marking the second time Driskill has lasted just four innings in his last three starts.

"I kept the ball down for the most part, but they did a good job laying off it," Driskill said. "I had to elevate it to get them to swing at it."

Left-hander B.J. Ryan kept the Orioles close with two innings of scoreless relief. But right-hander Willis Roberts, one of two Baltimore players ejected from Sunday's game, lost it in the eighth. He allowed three runs to score, including Chris Gomez, who scored from second base on a wild pitch that careened all the way to the Orioles' dugout.

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