- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

BALTIMORE — The large and boisterous crowd that gathered to watch the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers last night provided the kind of energy and buzz at Camden Yards that was more reminiscent of 1997 than 2003.

Of course, it certainly helped that the home club played more like the 1997 American League East champions than the bunch that has stumbled to five straight losing seasons since.

Buoyed by a throng of 42,488 — the largest since Opening Day — the Orioles turned in one of their best all-around performances of the season and cruised to an 8-1 victory over the Rangers.

On a night when Baltimore’s resurgent offense kept its two-week splurge going, starter Omar Daal was the real star. The left-hander breezed past Texas’ potent lineup, allowing one run on seven hits in eight standout innings. He also failed to walk a batter for the third straight start.

“[The Rangers] are scary, 1 through 9,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. “You’ve got to be aggressive, but you’ve got to be careful, too. Omar did that tonight.”

The potent combination of a floppy hat giveaway, a postgame fireworks show and the first truly sunny day in more than a month led to a huge Friday night crowd. The Orioles had been averaging a disappointing 25,526.

The vibes in Baltimore are all positive these days, thanks in no small part to recent hitting streaks by Melvin Mora (12 games) and Tony Batista (11 games), both of which were extended last night.

With so much attention being lavished upon Mora, Batista and youngsters Brian Roberts and Luis Matos, first baseman Jeff Conine has become something of a forgotten man. But in a manner befitting his entire career, Conine has been one of Baltimore’s few constants during an up-and-down season. Never flashy, never sloppy, the veteran cleanup hitter leads the club in RBI and has batted .301 over his last 43 games.

“Jeff, I really think, is the heart and soul of this ballclub,” Hargrove said. “He takes everything very seriously and is a tough competitor. It’s good to see him do well.”

Conine padded his solid numbers with a couple of rockets off Texas starter John Thomson (3-6). Leading off the second inning, Conine belted a double off the left-field wall, setting the table for a three-run inning. Jay Gibbons and Matos also doubled in the inning, with Deivi Cruz capping the spree with an RBI single.

In the third, Conine came to the plate with two outs and a man on first, and though he mirrored his previous at-bat by tagging the ball to left, this time he got under it enough to clear the fence. Conine’s sixth home run gave Baltimore a 5-0 lead. David Segui’s bases-clearing double in the seventh put a definitive stamp on the evening.

After an inconsistent start to his Orioles career, Daal (4-5) has turned in four solid starts over the last three weeks. With his second victory against the Rangers in six days, Daal extended his streak of innings without issuing a walk to 23.

“I was focused real good,” Daal said. “I mixed my pitches in and out, and I had a great changeup. I’m pitching the ball much better than I was before.”

He was in complete control last night, retiring the first 10 batters before Hank Blalock singled in the fourth to raise his American League-best batting average to .360. Only one Texas batter made it past first base through seven innings: Juan Gonzalez, who launched his 16th homer to lead off the fifth.

Notes — Adam Loewen, the recently signed first-round pick from last year’s amateur draft, made his first Camden Yards appearance. The 19-year-old Canadian left-hander, who signed for $4million minutes before Monday night’s deadline, took a physical in the afternoon and was introduced to the crowd during the third inning. Scouting director Tony DeMacio presented Loewen with a No.24 Orioles jersey — a curious selection since first-base coach Rick Dempsey has worn the number for decades. …

Right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique muscle, threw three innings in an extended spring training game in Sarasota, Fla. He will make another rehabilitation start Wednesday.

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