Tejada Gives the Orioles a Little Pick-Me-Up
Orioles 3, Devil Rays 2
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page E01
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., July 17 -- For a moment, a little more than halfway through a wild trip around the base paths in the third inning Saturday night, Miguel Tejada found himself facedown in the infield dirt between second base and third base at Tropicana Field. What a place to be at that instant, with the crowd beginning to roar and the ball making its way back to the infield.
A few seconds later, however, Tejada made an exhausted slide into home plate and returned to his dugout wearing a sheepish grin. One trip around the bases said so much about him: quick bat, irrepressible spirit, impish charm.
Tejada's imprint was all over the Orioles' 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Saturday night, from the way he sneaked behind Carl Crawford at second base to initiate a beautiful pickoff play that defused a potentially destructive first-inning rally, to the two-out RBI double he lined in the fifth inning to give the Orioles a two-run lead -- the Orioles' lone hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"From day one, that's the way he is. That's the way he plays the game," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "The kid wants to win."
That insurance run proved critical when Orioles closer Jorge Julio gave up a towering solo homer to Aubrey Huff with two outs in the ninth to trim the lead to one, the latest example of Julio's tendency to turn the ninth inning into an unnecessary adventure.
Julio's 14th save capped a solid 3 2/3-inning stint by the Orioles' bullpen in relief of starter Rodrigo Lopez (7-6), who labored through 5 1/3 innings, allowing five walks and five hits but only one run. Tampa Bay went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and the teams have combined to go 3 for 49 (.061) in those situations in the series, which will end Sunday.
Still, the lasting image of this game will be Tejada's 360-foot odyssey around the bases in the third inning, which involved an opposite-field double, a graceless stumble-and-fall, a sure out that wasn't and an error that allowed Tejada to come around and score.
"It's a play we work on," third base coach Tom Trebelhorn joked. "It's called 'Little League homer.' You just keep running until they tag you out."
After lining a 2-1 fastball to right, Tejada decided to try for third when he saw Devil Rays right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. crash into the wall and come up empty.
"That's the way I play," Tejada said. "I always try to make something happen."
However, between second and third base, Tejada stumbled and fell face first into the dirt. He jumped back up and continued toward third, but the relay throw from second baseman Rey Sanchez was going to beat him by about 10 feet -- and Tejada pulled up as if ready to retreat into a rundown.
But then Sanchez's throw skidded past Devil Rays third baseman Huff and went clanging around near the Orioles' bullpen, at which point Tejada touched third and continued toward home, completing his improbable trip around the bases with an exhausted slide.
"It was just a funky play," Mazzilli said.
Tejada walked toward the Orioles' dugout wearing an embarrassed, weary smile, at which point his teammates playfully fanned him with a towel and waved smelling salts under his nose. The play was ruled a double plus a two-base error on Sanchez.
"That's just lucky," Tejada said. "We won by one run. I think that [play was] the difference."
Orioles Notes: After struggling for weeks, center fielder Luis Matos finally was benched Saturday night and replaced by Tim Raines Jr. Matos had started 82 of the team's first 87 games. Mazzilli did not say how many games Matos would sit out.
Entering Saturday, Matos's .233 batting average ranked 165th out of 172 hitters in the majors with a qualifying number of plate appearances, while his on-base percentage of .284 ranked 170th. . . .
Third baseman Melvin Mora (strained hamstring) is expected to be activated from the disabled list and start Sunday, with either Raines or infielder Jose Leon sent to the minors. . . .
Right-hander Sidney Ponson (strained groin) threw a bullpen session before the game and is scheduled to start the opener of the Kansas City series on Monday. . . .
Devil Rays left fielder Carl Crawford stole his major league-leading 39th base of the season. With 103 career steals, he is one of only eight major leaguers in history to steal 100 or more bases before age 23. . . .
Orioles third baseman David Newhan went 0 for 4, marking the first time he has failed to collect a hit in 24 starts this season.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company