- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

BALTIMORE — His Baltimore Orioles had lost six straight games. His starting pitcher, who hadn’t won since blowing out a right elbow ligament two years ago, had walked two of the first three batters to start the sixth inning and jeopardize the team’s two-run lead.

The percentages said manager Mike Hargrove should take the ball from right-hander Pat Hentgen and bring in left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan to face Tampa Bay’s dangerous left-handed batter, Aubrey Huff.

But Hargrove hasn’t won five American League Central titles by always going by the book. He left Hentgen in, and the 1996 Cy Young Award winner got Huff to fly to left and Travis Lee to bounce to first.

Three innings later, the Orioles had a 2-0 victory before 22,653 on a chilly night at Camden Yards, breaking a six-game losing streak they endured under bench coach Sam Perlozzo while Hargrove was in Texas for his mother’s funeral. Baltimore (19-23) avoided falling into a tie for the AL East cellar with the Devil Rays (17-25), who conclude their three-game visit today.

“The easiest thing in the world would be to go to the bullpen and bring in a fresh guy to match up [with Huff], but there are times that you have to show confidence in your people and let them know that you believe in them,” Hargrove said. “Pat had maintained his velocity throughout the game. He had handled Huff and Lee pretty well. We got the benefit of giving Pat’s confidence a little boost, got another inning out of him and were able to set up our bullpen a lot better. Pat was golden tonight.”

Hentgen pitched a perfect seventh before yielding to Buddy Groom, having allowed just two hits. Jorge Julio pitched the ninth for his 10th save as the bullpen enjoyed its second straight super outing after allowing 31 earned runs over 30 innings in its previous 11 games. But Hentgen, 34, was the story in his seventh post-surgery start.

“There were times I didn’t think this would happen,” said Hentgen, who spent most of 2002 on rehabilitation assignment in the minors. “I located my pitches very well tonight, and when you pitch in the big leagues, location is everything.”

Sixty-seven of Hentgen’s 111 pitches were strikes, but Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremi Gonzalez was nearly as good in his first major league appearance in nearly five years. Gonzalez, who had elbow surgery in 1998 and 1999 and pitched just 35⅔ innings from 1999 to 2001, struck out nine Orioles over seven innings while allowing five hits. However, he also allowed the game’s only runs.

The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first but could have had much more. With one out, Melvin Mora singled to left and David Segui walked. Jeff Conine singled on an 0-2 pitch, scoring Mora. When right fielder Huff bobbled the ball, Segui went to third and Conine to second. Gonzalez walked Jay Gibbons intentionally to load the bases. But after falling behind Tony Batista 2-0, Gonzalez struck him out and then got Larry Bigbie looking on a 3-2 pitch.

Those strikeouts were the first of 11 straight Orioles retired by Gonzalez before Deivi Cruz singled to lead off the fifth. Brook Fordyce moved Cruz over with a sacrifice bunt. Jerry Hairston ripped Gonzalez’s next pitch down the left-field line, scoring Cruz. But again one run was all Baltimore got as Mora popped to first and Segui struck out.

Notes — The Devil Rays didn’t record an assist. That’s just the eighth time in major league history it has happened but the second time for Tampa Bay. … After going 0-for-5 Friday, Orioles center fielder Gary Matthews is mired in an 7-for-48 slump and batting just .208. He wasn’t in the lineup last night and likely won’t be for a while. Hargrove said Matthews needs to become refreshed mentally and get back to basics.

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