- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

BALTIMORE — The only thing better for the Baltimore Orioles than Jeff Conine’s return to the lineup last night was the impact it had for the struggling club.

Conine, who had missed 10 games with bursitis in his 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 at Camden Yards.

The first baseman hit the first pitch of his first inning at-bat into the left-center gap for a double to drive in the Orioles’ first run. Conine later scored on Jay Gibbons’ double as the Orioles quickly jumped on Tampa Bay starter Victor Zambrano.

“I thought I’d be angry if I let a good one go by,” said Conine, who was 2-for-2 with two walks and a sacrifice fly. “I saw it out of his hand and put a good swing on it.”

Conine later factored in three more Baltimore rallies as the Orioles (58-67) avoided falling 11 games under .500 for the first time this season.

“Having Niner back in the lineup means everything to us,” said Gibbons, who homered and drove in four runs. “He set the tone with the first-pitch double. It was just great to have him back and great to hold on to the lead.”

Damian Moss (1-1), acquired last month with pitchers Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman from San Francisco for Sidney Ponson, picked up his first win for Baltimore as the Orioles ended a five-game skid against the last-place Devil Rays.

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

The Orioles’ outburst came at the expense of 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, when he 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 giving way to Travis Harper. The reliever induced Gibbons to hit a ground ball to the left side, but shortstop Julio Lugo’s attempt at a forceout at second sailed into right field and allowed two more runs to score to extend the Orioles lead to 8-0.

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

Moss cruised through four innings before surrendering back-to-back homers to Jared Sandberg and Marlon Anderson.

The left-hander, who has been bedeviled by control problems this season, 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 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 in the next inning.

B.J. Ryan and Kerry Ligtenberg combined to pitch a scoreless eighth before Buddy Groom tossed a perfect ninth to preserve the win.

“We got one in a row now,” Hargrove said. “The trick is to continue this and go out and win tomorrow. Most times when you break a streak like this it’s a struggle, and it certainly was.”

Notes — The Orioles were 1-9 during Conine’s absence. … Gibbons is 7-for-12 with two homers lifetime against Zambrano. … Larry Bigbie’s homer in the second was his fourth of the year. His third inning stolen base 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.

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