- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

BALTIMORE — It’s a $4million question that the Baltimore Orioles will soon answer. And Pat Hentgen is making that decision more and more difficult with each sterling start.

The Orioles will have to decide after the season whether to pick up the veteran pitcher’s $4million option for next season or let the rebuilt 1996 Cy Young Award winner become an important part of another team’s future.

Hentgen, whose future did not seem so bright when he was relegated to the bullpen earlier this season, again showed why he can be one of the game’s top hurlers when he tossed another gem against the playoff-contending Seattle Mariners yesterday.

Hentgen, who continues to build his strength after having ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow in August of 2001, rendered the Mariners helpless in the Orioles’ 2-1 win before 36,897 at Camden Yards. The savvy right-hander went eight innings and allowed five hits — three singles and two doubles — to prolong his late-season surge.

Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts had two hits and an RBI to finish the three-game series 9-for-14 and extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Jorge Julio pitched a perfect ninth for his 32nd save. Hentgen (6-7) outdueled hard-luck loser Freddy Garcia (11-14), who allowed one earned run over seven innings. It was the Orioles’ second straight win and fourth of five.

Hentgen, who turns 35 in November, is 5-2 with a 2.85 ERA over his last 11 starts and has gone at least six innings in 10 of those games. He has allowed one run in his last 16 innings, making the $4million question that much more difficult.

“It will probably depend on how we feel about the rest of our starting rotation as well,” said Jim Beattie, Orioles vice president of baseball operations. “Obviously, finances will enter into it. … We have plans going into the offseason both with respect to players we are targeting both with free agency and through trades that we think might be available. All those things kind of come into play.”

Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove, whose own contract expires after this season, believes the Orioles should keep Hentgen.

“Even if I’m not back here, I will lobby hard to have Pat back,” Hargrove said. “Since the All-Star break, he has been maybe our most consistent performer. People like Pat don’t grow on trees. He is making a great case for himself.”

Hentgen refused to talk about next year.

“It’s out of my control,” he said. “I am just going to go out there and pitch and continue to try to win games and keep my team in the game and eat up some innings.”

Baltimore continued it’s role of spoiler by taking two of three from Seattle over the weekend. The Mariners remain 1 games behind Boston in the wild-card race and trail Oakland by two games in the AL West. The Orioles won their second straight series. They took two of three from the Athletics earlier in the week.

The Orioles got the runs they needed in the third. Luis Matos led off with a walk. Robert Machado singled to shallow left, but outfielder Randy Winn bobbled the ball. The error allowed the speedy Matos to score from first and Machado to advance to second. After Jose Morban grounded out, Roberts’ doubled into the right-field corner to score Machado to make it 2-0.

That was enough for Hentgen and the run-challenged Mariners, who have scored eight — including six in their series-opening win on Friday — in their last 49 innings.

Seattle threatened in the fifth, but Hentgen and strong defense limited the rally to a single run. Winn led off with a double, went to second on Mike Cameron’s sacrifice bunt and scored on John Mabry’s double. After walking Pat Borders, Ichiro Suzuki hit a sharp grounder to first. Jay Gibbons, who has become Baltimore’s everyday first baseman since Jeff Conine was traded nine days ago, fielded it cleanly, stepped on first and made a perfect throw to shortstop Morban, who completed the double play by tagging out Borders to retire the Mariners.

Seattle stranded the tying run at third in the eighth after Mabry was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. With two outs and runners on the corners, Carlos Guillen struck out looking at Hentgen’s 88 mph fastball on the outside corner.

Notes — Beattie reiterated that no decision had been made on Hargrove’s status and the evaluation is continuing. “We’ll get to it when we decide the time is right,” he said. …

Roberts had several possible hits taken away from him by good defense in the Oakland series before exploding for nine hits over the last three games.

“It was getting a little frustrating,” said the second baseman, who is bidding to take Jerry Hairston’s job permanently. “But I knew I was hitting the ball well and it would turn around. I didn’t know it would turn around that quick.”

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