- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. The Baltimore Orioles came west this week as a struggling ballclub that had just lost two of three to the worst team in the American League and faced the daunting challenge of resurrecting its season against some of the league's finest.

No one will say it publicly, but the Orioles probably would have been content to win one of three games against the Oakland Athletics, especially considering the A's started top left-handers Barry Zito and Mark Mulder in two of the games at Network Associates Coliseum.

These are not the A's you may remember from the last two seasons, though, and the pitcher who was blasted by Baltimore's lineup yesterday afternoon was not the Mark Mulder that finished second in last year's Cy Young Award voting.

After a dominating 11-3 victory on a gorgeous northern California afternoon, the Orioles left town having won two of three from Oakland to open their 16-game stretch against the A's, Mariners and Yankees on a decided high note.

"Oakland's got a good ballclub, their [20-26] record notwithstanding," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "Things just aren't working for them right now. We knew this was going to be a tough trip, so I think winning two out of three here is really big for us."

After winning Tuesday night's 14-inning marathon and dropping Wednesday's 7-6 game, the Orioles came out yesterday and jumped all over the once-mighty Mulder, who is battling arm trouble and appears a shell of the pitcher who won 21 games in 2001.

Making his third start since spending a month on the disabled list with a strained forearm, Mulder (2-4, 6.96 ERA) continues to suffer from poor control and decreased velocity, so much so that he has asked the club to turn off the stadium radar gun reading when he pitches. Yesterday he was tagged for seven runs (four earned) in 4⅔ innings, including a three-run homer by Chris Singleton in the second and a solo shot by Geronimo Gil in the fourth.

"It didn't look like he had quite the velocity that he's had in the past," said Singleton, who reached base three times and extended his hitting streak to 12 games. "And it didn't look like he had as much command. I've seen him pretty sharp before."

Orioles starter Sidney Ponson wasn't sharp either, needing a whopping 113 pitches to get through six innings. But Ponson (3-3) made his most important pitches count, such as a 3-2 fastball to Scott Hatteberg with two on in the second. Hatteberg grounded into a double play to quash one of Oakland's better scoring opportunities.

"I'm just happy I got a 'W,'" said Ponson, who had not won in his last three starts. "I needed to pitch seven or eight innings, and I only went six. I wanted to go deep into the game and try to give the bullpen as much rest as possible."

The game threatened to get out of hand in the eighth inning, when A's reliever Mike Magnante plunked Singleton in the rear end an obvious response to Singleton's stolen base two innings earlier when the Orioles already held a 6-1 lead. Plate umpire Bruce Froemming immediately ejected Magnante, but while Hargrove understood the A's intent, he insisted he was not trying to run up the score by giving Singleton the green light to steal second.

"We're not in the business of trying to show people up," said Hargrove, citing Wednesday's game, in which the Orioles rallied from a 5-1 deficit to make things interesting late. "We were just trying to score enough runs to win. Given the same set of circumstances, I'd do the same thing again without a moment's hesitation. It was just a matter of us wanting to nail the game down."

The game continued without further incident, as the Orioles piled on three more runs in the eighth on Marty Cordova's fourth homer of the season.

A's manager Art Howe was diplomatic about the situation, saying afterward that "the message was sent."

Notes Right-hander Jason Johnson, on the disabled list since April 25 with a fractured right middle finger, left for Sarasota, Fla., yesterday to begin his rehabilitation assignment at the Orioles' extended spring training camp. Johnson will throw during a side session tomorrow before making a three-inning start Monday. If all goes well, he'll make one more five-inning start and then return to Baltimore's rotation, perhaps as soon as the first week in June.

Rookie right-hander Travis Driskill will make his first career start tomorrow night against the Mariners, filling in for No.5 starter Sean Douglass, who was needed for 3⅓ innings in relief Wednesday.

Minor league right-hander Kris Foster, acquired with catcher Geronimo Gil last summer from the Dodgers for Mike Trombley, underwent arthroscopic surgery Wednesday to remove bone chips from his right elbow. Foster will be out 10-12 weeks.

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