Orioles Win In Sosa's Hitless Return

Sammy Sosa
In his first game back from a foot injury, Sammy Sosa ties the game with this swing in the seventh inning, a sacrifice fly that brings in Chris Gomez. (Gail Burton - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

BALTIMORE, May 24 -- He promised something extraordinary at the plate but only offered up a hitless night that included a strikeout in the sixth inning on a mighty swing on a slow change-up and a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the seventh. Only two innings after Sammy Sosa's first at-bat in 16 games, the Baltimore Orioles found yet another reason why they need special at-bats from their slugging right fielder.

On the night the Orioles welcomed back Sosa from the disabled list, the Orioles -- with Jay Gibbons's home run in the eighth inning -- won a game, 3-2, against the Seattle Mariners, but lost two of their most important players. Catcher Javy Lopez is the most seriously injured, likely out about six weeks with a broken bone in his right hand.

"It may be awhile," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Brian Roberts is day-to-day after being struck in the left knee by Seattle reliever Ron Villone in the seventh inning. Lopez's injury leaves the Orioles with a huge hole in the lineup, one that could be filled by a likely Hall of Famer known to hit long home runs on occasion.

"One comes in," Sosa said, "one comes out."

Now more than ever they need Sosa, who was lost for more than two weeks because of a staph infection and abscess on his left foot, to become the dangerous power hitter he has been for most of his career. Clearly, there is little room for a slumping Sosa in the Baltimore lineup.

"I don't want to focus on one guy," Sosa said. "Everybody has to be together. Everybody has to do their job. It's got to be everybody together."

It was a harrowing night for Mazzilli, who at one point thought two of his most important players were lost for significant time. Mazzilli appeared distraught after the game even though his team had just come back for the 16th time this season.

"You're losing an all-star catcher," Mazzilli said. "With his bat you're losing a lot, no question. We'll be resilient."

Roberts lay on the ground in pain after being struck with a pitch on the left knee yet somehow persuaded his manager to allow him to trot to first base with the tying run in the seventh inning. He appeared slowed each time he stepped away from first base to take a lead. And when Jeff Fiorentino laid down a bunt, Roberts limped from first to second and appeared to be an easy out. Except Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre threw the ball high to second and Roberts, running on adrenaline, slid in order to reach base safely. He was safe, but injured his knee again and was taken out of the game.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Mazzilli said.

Sosa tied the game at 2 in the seventh on a sacrifice fly to center field. He had the bases loaded against Seattle reliever Jeff Nelson and swung on the first pitch.

The Orioles surely hope Sosa's return helps jump-start a team that had lost three of four games prior to Tuesday. Though the Orioles were 9-7 in Sosa's absence, they will gladly insert him back into the cleanup spot. Perhaps most affected by Sosa's absence was Miguel Tejada, whose batting average dropped 32 points without the right fielder in the lineup.

Joel PiƱeiro, who entered Tuesday's game with just one quality start this season, shut down Baltimore's offense for most of the night. The Orioles scored a run in the first on a single by Melvin Mora, scoring Fiorentino, but could not take advantage of putting the first two men on base in the second inning and failed to score in the sixth when they had men on first and second with just one out.

It was not until Gibbons's home run that Baltimore had its first lead of the game.

"That was a big hit for him," Mazzilli said. "He's been swinging the bat well and tonight was just a special night for him."

Baltimore left-hander Bruce Chen was erratic though he allowed just two runs in seven innings. He escaped trouble almost all night. He allowed the leadoff man to reach base in six of his seven innings. Two scored. Both times it was Ichiro Suzuki. But even Chen was more concerned about the loss of the two players.

"It was very tough," Chen said. "They're all good players and good people. Sammy is back, and he's going to be a great player."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company