Roberts's Home Run Ends O's Slump

Brian Roberts
For the first time since Melvin Mora, left, went down with an injury last week, the Orioles win a game, as Brian Roberts, right, hits a walk-off homer to beat the Yankees. (Joe Giza - Reuters)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

BALTIMORE, June 28 -- They ran toward home plate, hands clapping and vocal chords throbbing, as if it were the first game they had ever won in their lives, and it certainly must have seemed that way after six consecutive losses had stopped all the talk about a division title. Brian Roberts finally ended Baltimore's six-game losing streak with a home run against Mike Stanton in the 10th inning to give the Orioles a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees.

Baltimore once again thrust itself into the division chase. The Boston Red Sox' loss puts the Orioles just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East.

The six-game losing streak caused so much concern that Baltimore legend Cal Ripken Jr. showed up at the game simply to change his old team's bad fortunes.

"I was joking that I hadn't been to the ballpark lately and the team was struggling a little bit and I thought I'd bring them luck," Ripken Jr. said. "Looks like I have to come back tomorrow."

It took a comeback in the eighth inning for Baltimore to finally end the dreadful losing streak. Miguel Tejada's single up the middle against Tom Gordon tied the game, sending the Baltimore bench into a celebration. The injured Melvin Mora, whose right hamstring injury has hurt Baltimore's lineup, leaped to the top step without so much as a limp. Tejada, as he reached first base, yelled and pumped his fist.

The crowd roared, drowning out the numerous Yankees fans.

"To me it's really good being a Baltimore guy to see the Orioles stick their chest out and be in the position they are in right now," Ripken Jr. said. "I'm enjoying that. It was a great atmosphere at the ballpark tonight. It's been a great atmosphere about the Orioles outside of the park. A lot of people are talking about the Orioles out and about the town."

When people speak of the Orioles on Wednesday they will mention how Roberts continues to establish himself as one of the best players in the game.

In the dugout prior to the start of the 10th inning, Manager Lee Mazzilli spoke to Roberts about strategies should he get on base. Roberts simply smiled, telling his manager with only a simple expression there would be no reason to worry. Roberts swung at the first pitch and sent the ball deep over the left field wall.

"I had mixed emotions about whether I was going to look for something to hit or take the first pitch," Roberts said. "Sometimes my mind plays little tricks on me. But I was trying to make sure I was going to get a good pitch. Home run was the last thing on my mind. I was trying to hit it hard obviously."

In order to shake up the lineup, Mazzilli dropped the slumping Sammy Sosa, who entered Tuesday's game 1 for his last 19, to the sixth spot for the first time this season.

Last year Sosa was angered when Chicago Cubs Manager Dusty Baker dropped the right fielder to the sixth spot. To avoid such a conflict, Mazzilli met with Sosa prior to the game and explained the move and offered words of encouragement. The meeting between the two went well. Sosa, aware he had been struggling, accepted the demotion.

Sosa, who has called Mazzilli perhaps the best manager he has played for, appreciated the gesture. Sosa struggled again on Tuesday, but it did not cost Baltimore.

Sidney Ponson was not perfect, but he gave the Orioles the best outing by a starter in more than a week. He allowed four runs in the first six innings, but held the Yankees for his last two innings. Ponson pitched eight innings and allowed two runs on nine hits. It was the first time since June 18 that an Orioles starter pitched more than six innings.

A season that was on the verge of collapse might have turned when Rafael Palmeiro stepped to the plate in the sixth inning. The Orioles' magical run appeared to be quickly and painfully coming to an end.

It was Palmeiro who helped revive Baltimore, putting the Orioles only one run behind with his 12th home run of the season, which was the 563rd home run of his career. It was Palmeiro's career hit No. 2,990. Several innings later Roberts pulled the team out of its misery with the game-winning home run, the first he can recall of his entire life.

"It's definitely a relief," Roberts said. "We had a little sense of urgency tonight, maybe more so than in the last week."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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