BALTIMORE, April 16 -- He has been their most valuable player in the first 11 games, their spark plug for a start that has already proven surprising. No Baltimore Oriole has played better than Brian Roberts, the slight second baseman with sudden sock.
He almost lost the game when he mishandled a ground ball that led to a run in the top of the seventh inning of Saturday's 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. But as he approached the plate in the bottom of the inning, Roberts would be the one to provide the grandest moment.
Ex-Oriole Mike Mussina is taunted by a fan reminding him that he hasn't won a World Series.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
_____From The Post_____
Brian Roberts keeps the power running as the Orioles drop the Yankees again, 7-6.
Notebook: Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks remains in hospital.
With New York reliever Tom Gordon on the mound, Roberts sent a fastball over the right field wall for a deciding three-run home run, capping a five-run rally. It was his fifth home run of the season, tying a career high.
"He's been amazing," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I'm real proud of him. He's a hell of a player, that kid."
The Orioles have beaten the Yankees three consecutive times and in four of the five games this season. With a win Sunday, the Orioles would match last year's win total against New York and sweep the Yankees for the first time since 2000. Only more surprising than the Orioles dominance of the Yankees is the sudden surge in power from Roberts, who has no reasonable explanation to why he has more home runs than Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro combined.
"I have no idea," Roberts said. "It's something that won't last, that's for sure. I'm the same person I've always been. Lately I've feel I've gotten better every year, but it usually doesn't translate into home runs. I feel like my approach at the plate has gotten better and better."
He is only 5 feet 7, 178 pounds. He is chiseled, but not too stout.
"He's a strong little kid," Mazzilli said, "don't let the size fool you."
"People don't know how strong he is," said Baltimore's Jay Gibbons.
Perhaps an explanation for those angling for answers could be his strenuous training regimen in Arizona during the offseason.
"I've been doing that for three years," Roberts said with a slight giggle.
After the home run, the appreciative crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards gave Roberts an ovation. They cheered loudly when he appeared from the dugout to start the eighth.
"I haven't seen the fans like this since Cal [Ripken's] final year," Roberts said. "It's fun for us. That's what we've been looking forward to for three or four years. I don't blame our fans. We haven't done what we needed to do on the field."
Mazzilli wanted this win so badly against New York on Saturday, he brought closer B.J. Ryan into the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth. A week ago, Ryan, in mop-up duty, had surrendered a home run to Hideki Matsui on a 3-2 fastball. On Saturday, Ryan, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save, struck out Matsui on a 3-2 count with a fastball.
"Sometimes you have to roll the dice," Ryan said.
Rodrigo Lopez had dominated the Yankees a week ago at Yankee Stadium, allowing just one run in eight innings. But Lopez did not appear to have the same command on Saturday. The Yankees scored five runs against Lopez, knocking him out of the game in the seventh. In that inning, Roberts helped the Yankees score a run when he could not handle a ground ball, which allowed Alex Rodriguez to score from third. The Yankees scored three runs in the seventh to extend their lead to 6-2.
"In the past, that game would have been over," Gibbons said. "That's for sure."
Roberts would make up for the mistake only minutes later.
"It fell apart with a couple of dinks here and there, then the hottest hitter in baseball comes up," Rodriguez said. "He's like George Brett right now."
Roberts ended the game batting .444. Against the Yankees he is 12 for 23 with three home runs, a triple, eight runs scored and nine RBI.
"I haven't seen anybody as hot as him in a very long time," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "I guess somebody is getting him out 60 percent of the time, but it certainly hasn't been us."