- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

BALTIMORE In New York last night, the Diamondbacks and Yankees staged a rematch of last year's World Series for the ages. In Seattle, a pair of Series hopefuls (the Mariners and Cardinals) met for the first time ever. And in Minneapolis, the big-buck Braves faced the upstart small-market Twins 11 years after the two staged a fabulous World Series of their own.
These are the matchups baseball commissioner Bud Selig promotes when trying to sell the public on the merits of interleague play.
It's safe to say he won't be hyping the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles, not after last night's epic first meeting between the two that resulted in an uninspiring 8-6 win for the Orioles.
"Sometimes you feel like you want to go home you don't want to play any more," said Baltimore's Melvin Mora of the 3-hour, 24-minute game that featured nine pitchers, 14 walks and three wild pitches. "It's difficult. Sometimes you're going to be struggling, the whole team's going to be struggling. That's baseball."
The new wrinkle on interleague play this season has teams from the American League East facing those from the National League West, which allowed the Padres to make their first trip to Camden Yards. Perhaps in previous years, Cal Ripken vs. Tony Gwynn would have been worth the price of admission alone.
But with those two stars now retired, the 30,075 in attendance last night were left with Scott Erickson vs. Dennis Tankersley. The two starting pitchers were anything but memorable on a warm and muggy night. Neither made it through the sixth inning, and neither figured in the final decision after the Padres rallied to tie the game late.
The difference proved to be Mora's powerful bat, a somewhat surprising development given the Baltimore leadoff hitter's recent woes at the plate. But Mora launched a two-run homer off San Diego reliever Jeremy Fikac (3-5) in the eighth, the deciding blow in a tight ballgame.
"I've been struggling with men in scoring position," said Mora, who had a .208 average in those situations before last night. "I have to swing hard, that's what I have to do every time. If I crush it, I crush it. I'm not looking to get a home run."
Mora also drove in the Orioles' first three runs with a bases-loaded double in the second, giving him a career-high five RBI for the night.
"You look at him and you don't think he's a power hitter," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But if you make mistakes and Melvin gets a good part of the bat on the ball and elevates the hit, then it's got a chance to go out of any ballpark."
Mora's eighth homer of the season snapped a 6-6 tie that came about as a result of third baseman Tony Batista's error in the top of the eighth. For Batista, who missed a hard grounder to his left, it was his fifth error in six games a disturbing trend that has the Baltimore coaching staff concerned, though he did come back to make a nice play on a bunt later in the inning.
Once they regained the lead on Mora's shot, the Orioles turned to left-hander Buddy Groom (2-1), who recorded three outs to earn the victory, and Jorge Julio, who finished the Padres off in the ninth and wowed the crowd with a 100-mph fastball to strike out Ron Gant.
The 23-year-old Tankersley was the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2001. Based on the way he's looked lately, that doesn't say much about the organization.
He entered last night's game having failed to last five innings in his previous two starts, and that dubious streak was extended to three against the Orioles. Tankersley (1-3) was all over the place all night, needing a whopping 79 pitches to make it through 3⅓ innings. The right-hander walked one batter in the first, two in the second and two in the fourth before San Diego manager Bruce Bochy mercifully pulled him. By that point, the Orioles had scored four runs, with one more charged to Tankersley still to come.
Erickson, who hasn't won a game in his last eight starts, needed all the help he could get. To be sure, the veteran right-hander didn't give up many hard-hit balls, save Bubba Trammell's fourth-inning solo homer. Instead, Erickson nibbled around the strike zone, walked three batters and saw four San Diego hitters pick up groundball singles in the second inning alone.
"There's not much you can do about it," said Erickson, who is 0-4 with a 6.55 ERA since his last win April 28. "[The groundballs] just all seemed to be well-placed."
Note The Orioles have signed 19 of their 50 picks from last week's draft, headlined by fourth-round selection Timothy Gilhooley, an outfielder from the University of the Pacific. Baltimore's top three picks, including first-rounder Adam Loewen, remain unsigned.


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