- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

BALTIMORE — Having iced his arm and come to terms with his defeat, Baltimore Orioles starter Rick Helling took a seat in the clubhouse to watch the rest of the game on television.

What he saw was a probable loss erased by an improbable rally.

Down five with four outs left, the Orioles rallied for eight eighth-inning runs with two outs en route to an 8-5 win over Toronto yesterday before 25,641 at Camden Yards.

Baltimore sent 12 batters to the plate in the eighth for its largest comeback since it came back from 6-0 to beat Toronto on Aug.23, 2002.

The deciding blow was Brook Fordyce’s two-run double that flew over the head of right fielder Reed Johnson to break a 5-5 tie.

“We just started getting hit after hit after hit,” said Helling, his four runs allowed in 5⅓ innings no longer bothering him. “You start thinking, ‘OK, a home run here can tie it,’ and we kept going. Plus, it all happened with two outs. That’s amazing.”

Toronto, aided by a grand slam from Eric Hinske, broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the sixth and appeared to be rolling behind starter Kelvim Escobar.

Escobar opened the eighth by getting Fordyce to ground out to short. Brian Roberts then started the rally innocently enough with a walk, and Luis Matos followed with an infield single.

Escobar came back to get Melvin Mora, the American League batting leader, to fly out to right, but then the rally began. And ironically enough, it was Jeff Conine who delivered the first blow.

Escobar had angered Conine and the Orioles on June24 in Toronto when he beaned Conine on his return trip to the plate after hitting a two-run homer. This time it was Conine who nearly drilled Escobar when he sent a full-count pitch back up the middle for a two-run single that made it 5-2. That gave the Orioles — and the Fourth of July crowd — some life, and the rally was on.

After giving up a single to Jay Gibbons, Escobar was pulled for Aquilino Lopez, but it didn’t do much good. Tony Batista slammed an RBI double to score Conine, and he and Gibbons came in on B.J. Surhoff’s double to right-center, tying it 5-5. Surhoff went 2-for-4 to extend his season-long hitting streak to 12 games.

Lopez was yanked after issuing a walk to Deivi Cruz, but not even the third Blue Jays pitcher in the inning could snuff the rally. Tanyon Sturtze gave up Fordyce’s game-winning double and Roberts’ RBI infield single that closed out the Orioles first eight-run inning since April 18 against Tampa Bay.

“I think anytime you win a game like this today, it has a special place,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. “I think a lot of us will remember this for a long time.”

Helling certainly will.

For the first five innings, in which he only gave up two hits, he could tell he was in the middle of one of those special pitchers’ duels. He was consistently throwing his curveball for strikes, and of his five strikeouts, two were against the always dangerous Carlos Delgado.

“It looked like it was going to be one of those days where whoever made the first mistake would lose,” Helling said.

But in the sixth, he gave up consecutive one-out singles to Frank Catalanotto and Vernon Wells to set up another match with Delgado, who Helling got to know pretty well during a Major League Baseball tour to Japan in 1998. Of the seven pitches that Helling threw in the pivotal Delgado at-bat, five were curveballs. That included the hanging breaking ball on a full-count pitch that Delgado smacked off the right field scoreboard for a long RBI single to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

Helling, visibly rattled, followed with a walk to Tom Wilson to load the bases with one out. That prompted Hargrove to make a change. In came reliever Travis Driskill, who had been scored on in five straight outings and seven of his past nine.

Hinske took a first-pitch strike and then belted a sinker that didn’t sink 397 feet to right field for the first grand slam of his career.

It looked like Hinske’s slam was going to clinch only the Blue Jays’ second win in seven games. Instead, Baltimore (38-45) gained its third straight victory.

“Everyone knows we’re not where we want to be record-wise, but we still play the game the right way,” Helling said. “To come from five down is very impressive. That’s a character builder.”

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