- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

BALTIMORE — Jeff Conine’s return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time for the Baltimore Orioles.

Conine, who had missed 10 games with bursitis of the right biceps, scored three runs and drove in two as the Orioles snapped a season-high eight-game losing streak with a 9-5 defeat of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night.

Jay Gibbons homered and drove in four runs, and Damian Moss picked up his first win as an Oriole as Baltimore ended a five-game skid against Tampa Bay. The victory prevented the Orioles (58-67) from falling 11 games under .500 for the first time this year.

The victory came a night after manager Mike Hargrove held a closed-door meeting following a lackluster 9-2 loss to the Devil Rays and just two days before a 10-game road trip to face playoff contenders New York, Oakland and Seattle.

The Orioles’ outburst came at the expense of Tampa Bay starter Victor Zambrano (9-7). The right-hander, who has bordered on unhittable at times this season but leads the American League in walks, wild pitches and hit batters, struggled with his command all night.

His greatest problems came in the third inning. Zambrano walked B.J. Surhoff and Conine to open the inning before Gibbons belted an opposite-field homer, his 19th of the season.

Zambrano’s problems continued in the fourth, when he plunked Luis Matos and walked Conine before yielding to Travis Harper. The reliever induced Gibbons to hit a ground ball to the left side, but shortstop Julio Lugo’s toss for a force at second sailed into right field and allowed two more runs to score.

Zambrano allowed only four hits in 3⅔ innings but walked six to fall to 0-4 lifetime at Camden Yards.

Moss (1-1), who was acquired from San Francisco on July31 with pitchers Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman for Sidney Ponson, cruised through four innings before surrendering back-to-back homers to Jared Sandberg and Marlon Anderson.

The left-hander has been bedeviled by control problems this season, and he was hit hard enough to be chased after 5⅔ innings. Moss gave up nine hits and only two walks and departed after allowing three straight hitters to reach safely but still won for the first time in four starts for Baltimore.

The struggling Orioles bullpen was solid and avoided absorbing its sixth loss in nine games. Rick Bauer struck out Carl Crawford to strand two men after relieving Moss in the sixth but was tagged for two runs the next inning to cut Baltimore’s lead to 8-5.

B.J. Ryan and Kerry Ligtenberg combined to pitch a scoreless eighth before Conine’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning added an insurance run for the Orioles. Buddy Groom then tossed a perfect ninth to preserve the win.

The Orioles jumped on the wild Zambrano early. Brian Roberts walked on four pitches to lead off the first and scored on Conine’s two-out double to the gap in left-center. Gibbons followed with another double to score Conine.

Larry Bigbie led off the second with his fourth home run to extend the lead to 3-0.

Notes — The Orioles were 1-9 during Conine’s absence. … Bigbie’s stolen base in the third was the team’s first in 11 games. … The Orioles signed 34th-round draft pick Brad Wiggins out of Howard (Texas) Junior College. The outfielder will report to the instructional league in the fall. … Outfielder Adam Piatt, who was claimed off waivers from Oakland, was activated and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.

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