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Orioles Rally, Sweep Tigers, Return to .500

Orioles 7, Tigers 3

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2004; Page D01

DETROIT, May 30 -- There were enough elements of mystery, intrigue and suspense in the top of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon to fill a short novel.

It included a surprise pinch-running appearance by a player presumed to be injured and unavailable, a suicide-squeeze attempt that the manager in question did not call for and a handful of critical strategy decisions that all fell in one team's favor.

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It also included six runs for the Baltimore Orioles against Detroit Tigers closer Ugueth Urbina, leading to a stunning 7-3 win and a three-game sweep that has lifted the Orioles (23-23) back to .500.

Three days after a 13-run loss at home to the New York Yankees stretched their season-long losing streak to seven games, the Orioles wrapped up their third straight win over the Tigers in front of 25,337 at Comerica Park.

"That," Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "was a real good win."

When the ninth inning began, the Orioles were down 2-1 and getting ready to face an accomplished closer, Urbina, who had a 0.93 ERA and 13 career saves against them. Their frustrations to that point included six stranded base runners, with another two wiped out on inning-ending double plays, and a wasted effort by starting pitcher Erik Bedard, who threw six solid innings.

The leadoff batter in the ninth, designated hitter Javy Lopez, fell behind 0-2 to Urbina on a pair of wicked sliders. But having faced Urbina often last season when both were in the National League East, Lopez guessed Urbina would throw him another slider. And when he did, Lopez smacked it into center field.

"I was ready for the same pitch, for the slider," Lopez said. "I have an idea of what kind of stuff he has."

Then, who should pop out of the Orioles' dugout as a pinch runner but Larry Bigbie. Although Bigbie was held out of the Orioles' lineup because he had stubbed his toe in his hotel room during the night, Mazzilli had approached him late in the game to see if he could pinch-run.

"He asked if I could run, if I could score from second on a base hit," Bigbie said. "I said, 'I can score.' "

Within moments, that exact scenario came to pass. Luis Matos singled, sending Bigbie to second and bringing B.J. Surhoff to the plate.

Mazzilli considered having Surhoff lay down a sacrifice bunt in order to put the go-ahead runs in scoring position, but he also knew he wanted veteran Rafael Palmeiro -- who had been given a rare day off -- to pinch-hit for the next batter, Jose Leon. And he knew the Tigers would walk Palmeiro with a base open.

So he let Surhoff swing away, and Surhoff delivered a sharp single to center field, with Bigbie scoring easily from second base, just as he had promised.

Mazzilli called Surhoff's the key at-bat of the inning. "If he makes an out, it's very easy to say, 'Why didn't he bunt them over?' " Mazzilli said. "So you roll the dice with him."


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