- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

BALTIMORE Maybe it's a stretch, but the Baltimore Orioles will cling to any sign of hope they can get their hands on right now.
The Orioles hit five home runs last night and rallied from an early deficit to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-4. The last time Baltimore had an offensive explosion like this was Aug.23 in an 11-7, come-from-behind victory over Toronto that catapulted the Orioles to the .500 mark.
Three-and-a-half weeks later, they are nowhere near the break-even point, having seen their once-promising season turn decidedly sour. If nothing else, last night's blowout before an announced crowd of 20,486 at Camden Yards conjured up memories of better times when this club had visions of its first winning season since 1997, not a late-season swoon of dramatic proportions.
The Orioles entered last night's game having lost 20 of their last 23 and having seen their 10-game lead over the Blue Jays for third place in the American League East morph into a 2-game deficit. They still trailed their neighbors from the north when they went home last night, but at least they slept a little easier.
"The last couple weeks have been tough, but I think what characterizes this season is a team that really didn't quit," said center fielder Chris Singleton, who hit two of Baltimore's season-high five homers. "Regardless of what happened the last couple of weeks, tonight was a great night. We want to build on that and finish strong."
Just as they did in their Aug.23 win, the Orioles dug themselves into an early hole and clawed their way back through the longball. Trailing 3-0 when it came to bat in the second, Baltimore scored nine runs over the next four innings.
Singleton was the biggest contributor, belting a pair of shots over the right-field wall. Over his last 15 games, the center fielder is batting .365 (19-for-52), reinstating himself in the daily lineup.
Tony Batista, Jay Gibbons and Marty Cordova also homered for Baltimore, knocking Blue Jays starter Justin Miller (7-5) out of the game in the third inning.
Orioles rookie right-hander John Stephens appeared to be in the same dilemma after surrendering three runs and five hits through two innings. But those who have watched the 22-year-old Australian over the last two months know he is prone to pitching his way out of early trouble. In nine starts this season, Stephens (2-4) has a 9.67 ERA in the first three innings. From the fourth inning on, that number drops to 2.33.
"It hasn't always been that way, but since I've been up here it has," he said. "It's a little tougher [to pitch that way], but everything up here is tougher. Hopefully, I'll be able to change that."
Stephens performed to his usual standards last night, rebounding from his rough start to retire 12 of the next 13 batters until Shannon Stewart led off the seventh with a solo homer. In some respects, the rookie's ability to improve as the game wears on speaks highly of his potential.
"It gives you reason to hope," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Very special people are able to do that. All the really good pitchers you've ever seen, you usually have to get them in the first four innings because after that they get in a groove. And it seems to be that way with John. That seems to be his trend since we've seen him here."
Note Gary Matthews Jr., out since Aug.23 with tendinitis in his right wrist, returned to play right field in the ninth inning last night, but he's still not ready to bat.

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