Mora, O's Give Chen Promised Support

Orioles' Melvin Mora is congratulated by Jay Gibbons after hitting the first of his two home runs, a three-run shot. Mora wound up with four RBI.
Orioles' Melvin Mora is congratulated by Jay Gibbons after hitting the first of his two home runs, a three-run shot. Mora wound up with four RBI. (By Ed Zurga -- Associated Press)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 18 -- In the third inning Wednesday, with their team already trailing by three runs, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada approached starter Bruce Chen and said, "Just hold them there, we're going to win this game."

There are fewer cushier jobs these days than being a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. The qualifications are simple: Throw strikes, minimize damage and keep the team in the game. The last part is perhaps the easiest. For the second consecutive night an Orioles starter fell behind early but left the game unscathed. This time it was Chen, who allowed three runs to the Royals in the second inning of Baltimore's 7-4 victory against the Kansas City Royals.

"I think guys know that if you give up a couple of runs, with this team you have a chance to get back in the game," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You've seen our lineup. We've got guys 1-9 that can take you out of the park sometimes."

The Orioles, after Boston's loss to Oakland, are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox and are four games in front of the World Series champions in the loss column.

"We think about that every day," Mora said. "Today we watched the game in Oakland. Everybody is looking. We just hope they lose and we win."

Chen's struggles in the second put Baltimore in a quick 3-0 hole. On Tuesday, starter Sidney Ponson gave up eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings but did not get a decision after the Orioles scored 12 runs in the game.

The Orioles are in the top three in the American League in runs scored and lead the league in home runs. Their ability to strike back is uncanny. Wednesday's win was their 15th come-from-behind victory already this season. In two games the Orioles have 19 runs and 29 hits against the worst team -- record-wise -- in baseball. In those two games, Baltimore eliminated leads of 8-2 and 3-0. Prior to this series, Kansas City has allowed just nine home runs in 18 games at Kauffman Stadium. Baltimore has hit seven in just two games.

"We know they're going to score some runs too, but I think we'll score more runs than anybody in baseball," Mora said. "We tried to keep our pitcher in the game. It doesn't matter how many runs they score. We're going to score a lot of runs too."

Mora's two home runs and four RBI helped Chen on Wednesday. By the sixth inning, Baltimore had given Chen a 7-3 lead.

"I felt I was back in the game," Chen said. "I didn't want to let them down. I was more aggressive and threw strikes."

The pitcher settled down after the three-run second and earned his fifth win of the season. Chen allowed a run in the seventh on a single by Tony Graffanino and was relieved by Todd Williams. Mike Sweeney followed with a stinging line drive that struck Williams in the right biceps. Williams did not return to pitch the eighth. He is day-to-day.

"It was just straight in the arm," Williams said. "It feels all right now, but it's going to be sore."

The Orioles scored their fourth run on a botched rundown by the Royals in the fifth inning. Rafael Palmeiro, standing at first after walking against Kansas City starter D.J. Carrasco, was waved home by third base coach Tom Trebelhorn on Javy Lopez's double into the right-center field gap. Kansas City center fielder Eli Marrero chased down the ball and threw it in the direction of Tony Graffanino. But the ball went past the second baseman.

Shortstop Angel Berroa scooped the ball up and threw it home. Palmeiro had kept running hard after Trebelhorn waved him home, but did not slide into the plate because B.J. Surhoff, the following hitter, had not instructed him to do so. Instead, Surhoff simply put his hands up in the air, meaning Palmeiro should just cross the plate without a slide. Berroa's throw arrived quickly, though, and Palmeiro was only safe by inches.

It was the only close call of the game for Baltimore. The Orioles have built up their lead in the AL East mostly without Palmeiro, who had struggled heading into this series. Palmeiro's surge, which began with a four-hit, five RBI night on Tuesday, continued on Wednesday. The first baseman had two hits and a walk and has now reached base in nine of his last 11 plate appearances.

"Palmeiro likes this ballpark," Mora said. "He doesn't want to get out of here."

Neither do the rest of the Orioles.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company