Gibbons's Grand Slam Gets the Orioles Going

Jay Gibbons
Baltimore's Jay Gibbons rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam off Tampa Bay's Casey Fossum in the first inning (Gail Burton - AP)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005

BALTIMORE, Aug. 10 -- If there is to be a revival for these Baltimore Orioles, long buried by many but still alive in spirit, it must certainly happen quietly and slowly. A first series win since the all-star break, against a last-place team, is undoubtedly a good start. The Orioles pummeled the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 9-5, on Wednesday to earn only their second series win since June 19.

Although beating the Devil Rays may not seem like much, less than three weeks ago the Orioles weren't even capable of that. They were swept by Tampa Bay in late July, which perhaps ended Baltimore's chances of contending this season. The Orioles have not seemed to be quite the same since then. During that series in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Orioles' deal for Florida Marlins starter A.J. Burnett fell apart and a deal sending Sidney Ponson to San Diego for Phil Nevin was agreed upon, but Nevin later rejected it.

The Orioles left Florida after that series battered and at least one ego, Ponson's, was bruised. Baltimore won just three of 14 games between then and the start of this three-game set on Tuesday.

"It is a step," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "As much as we've struggled, we have to take little steps."

But on Wednesday it quickly appeared Baltimore was headed for a good night. The Orioles scored five runs in the first inning, four of them coming on Jay Gibbons's grand slam to right field. They added three in the fifth inning on a double by Miguel Tejada and a single by Javy Lopez. Rookie Alejandro Freire, not quite a prospect anymore at age 30, had his first major league hit, a double, in the eighth inning.

Baltimore appears revived under Perlozzo, who is 4-2 since being given the job last Thursday. After the game rap music played loudly. Former manager Lee Mazzilli had banned postgame music. Several players have begun to show the makings of a beard. Mazzilli had banned facial hair.

"The more stuff we win, he said the more stuff we get," Gibbons said of his new manager. "The fourth win in a row we get facial hair. We're trying hard. We got that incentive."

Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez did not dominate, but he didn't need to. He allowed five runs in 8 2/3 innings. Perlozzo received the first boos of his managerial career when he walked to the mound to remove Lopez with two outs in the ninth.

A Baltimore offense that had been quiet for so long may have roared back under Perlozzo. The Orioles have scored nine or more runs in two of the past five games. Those are not awe-inspiring numbers, but it's a nice start for a team that must crawl back to third place before it can think of monitoring the first-place Boston Red Sox or the wild-card race.

This year's quick start -- Baltimore led the American League East for a whopping 62 consecutive days -- may have spoiled fans and wrecked perspectives. A finish above .500 would be a good goal for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1997.

"We discussed as a team that we aren't out of anything," Perlozzo said. "We need to go with that in our long-range plans. But we know that can't be accomplished until we string some things together."

The win will likely be the last peaceful moment for the team with Rafael Palmeiro returning to the club on Thursday.

"Tomorrow will be interesting," Gibbons said. "But I think when that dies down a little bit, with the new manager settling in it will be back to normal soon."

A team that had been so focused on reclaiming a good season must now try to displace distractions that will surely come when a crowd of reporters surfaces in the clubhouse on Thursday. They will not be wanting to speak about hitting streaks or good pitching performances, but instead will inquire about a fallen star hoping to reclaim some respectability.

Perhaps the entire team can relate to that. It was not so long ago the Orioles had strived for something more than respectability. They had hoped for pennant races and wild-card chases, for trophies and triumphs. Now it is a modest achievement to beat the Devil Rays.


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