Against the Nats, O's Master The Art of Timely Hitting

Orioles left-hander Brian Burres had lost all three of his starts in May, but he earned a win against the slumping Nationals, allowing two runs in 62/3 innings.
Orioles left-hander Brian Burres had lost all three of his starts in May, but he earned a win against the slumping Nationals, allowing two runs in 62/3 innings. (By Luis M. Alvarez -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

BALTIMORE, May 17 -- Both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles entered Saturday at or near the bottom of their respective leagues in team batting, so the Beltway Series didn't seem to be the place for fans looking for offensive fireworks.

But the Orioles have started this season surprisingly fast because they have overcome their deficiencies with timely hitting, while the Nationals have started surprisingly slow partly because the art form seems to have escaped them.

And on a picturesque Saturday night at Camden Yards, the difference was on full display when the Orioles beat the Nationals, 6-5, before an announced crowd of 32,662.

The Orioles won their fourth straight game by getting key hits in critical situations -- a skill they seem to have rediscovered after it eluded them during a five-game losing streak. The Nationals, by contrast, watched an eighth-inning rally fall just short because they failed to deliver in the clutch.

"I thought we never gave up and battled hard, but we were just a few big hits short," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "We took advantage of some of the walks and the hit by pitch, but we were one hit short."

After falling behind 6-2, the Nationals rallied to trim the deficit in the wild eighth. Aaron Boone's bases-loaded single off Dennis Sarfate drove in a pair of runs. Trembley then called reliever Jim Johnson into the game with runners on first and second with two out to face Nationals backup catcher Wil Nieves, who was in the game only because starter Jesús Flores was ejected in the sixth for arguing balls and strikes.

Johnson walked Nieves, then hit Lastings Milledge in the back with a pitch, cutting the Orioles' lead to just one. But with the bases still loaded, right fielder Austin Kearns struck out, the second time he failed to knock in a run in a key situation.

When the Nationals put a pair of runners in scoring position with nobody out in the second, Milledge grounded out and Kearns struck out looking.

"It was an interesting eighth inning, as everybody saw, to say the least," Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said. "But we hung in there. I thought our poise was very good."

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit his eighth homer of the year. Still, Orioles starter Brian Burres was good enough to pick up the victory, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings, breaking what had been a personal streak of three straight losses to begin the month of May.

Nationals left-hander Odalis Pérez, who has been an anchor of the Nationals' pitching staff this season, didn't bring his best to Baltimore. Pérez allowed six runs in just five innings. After allowing 10 hits to the Orioles, Pérez has allowed 21 hits over his past two starts combined.

Baltimore's Nick Markakis and Jay Payton each added two-run homers.

Baltimore took the lead when Melvin Mora jumped on a Pérez breaking ball in the first inning, pulling a drive near the line in left field. Nationals left fielder Wily Mo Peña, on a dead run to his right, stuck his glove out as he neared Mora's drive, hoping to make a spectacular grab. Instead, the ball fell under Peña's reach and bounced off the wall. Markakis followed with a sharp single to center, scoring Mora to give Baltimore a 1-0 advantage.

Markakis struck again in the third, hammering Pérez's 79 mph curveball over the right-center field wall.

Payton added the final flourishes in the fifth inning. After Pérez fell behind 3-0, Payton belted a 3-1 offering over the fence in left field to put Baltimore ahead 6-2. And even though Trembley needed three relievers to get out of the eighth inning, the four-run lead stood because the Orioles cashed in just enough.

"We may not be scoring a ton of runs a game, but I think we're doing a good job of getting people on and getting big hits when they count," said Markakis, who finished with three RBI.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company