Outside of Albert Belle, no segment of the Baltimore Orioles received more criticism or bore more blame for the team's season-sapping first half than the bullpen. But quietly, that bullpen has righted itself to become a solid, dependable unit, albeit about three months too late. The same can be said for Belle.
Tonight, Belle and the bullpen combined to steal a win, 5-3, from the Kansas City Royals in 10 innings in front of 12,171 at Kauffman Stadium.
Al Reyes, Jim Corsi, Jesse Orosco, Scott Kamieniecki (2-4) and Mike Timlin combined for five scoreless innings, dropping the bullpen's ERA to 2.97 over its last 29 games, and Belle won the game with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th.
Belle's homer, his 29th of the season and 350th of his career, came on an 0-1 pitch off Royals right-hander Derek Wallace. It scored B.J. Surhoff, who singled to lead off the inning.
In a dramatic ninth inning, Royals closer Jeff Montgomery entered with a one-run lead but blew a chance to notch the 300th save of his career. Montgomery gave up three singles, including a two-out grounder up the middle to Orioles pinch hitter Derrick May, which scored pinch runner Rich Amaral from second with the tying run. It was the Royals' 28th blown save, seven more than the Orioles.
Since his contract was purchased from Class AAA Rochester on Saturday, May is 2 for 3 with three runs batted in, all in a pinch-hit role.
"I know I'm not going to be playing much, but I want to do something to contribute," May said. "And this is it."
Just one batter before May's game-tying single, Royals left fielder Johnny Damon stole what would have been a go-ahead three-run homer by Orioles catcher Charles Johnson with a leaping catch at the wall.
Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson hit a pair of solo homers off Royals starter Blake Stein, including a 424-foot blast in the third inning, to account for the Orioles' first two runs.
With 19 homers to go along with 29 stolen bases, Anderson suddenly has an outside shot at the first 30-30 season of his career. Over his last 37 games, Anderson is hitting .359, raising his season batting average to .293, close to his career-high of .297 in 1996 and 57 points higher than his .236 average a year ago.
Anderson provided the only offensive support for Orioles starter Jason Johnson, who nonetheless did himself no favors. Johnson, hampered by a blister on his middle finger, found trouble from the beginning.
In the second inning, which began with second baseman Delino DeShields booting Jermaine Dye's grounder, Johnson fell behind either 3-0 or 3-1 to four batters, issuing two walks. But he escaped with only the one uneared run scoring, getting Rey Sanchez to ground to shortstop with the bases loaded.
Johnson threw first-pitch strikes to only six of the 24 batters he faced and had counts of either 2-0 or 3-1 a total of 11 times and walked five batters. Fittingly, the last batter he faced, Joe Randa with no outs in the sixth, drew a walk after Johnson fell behind 3-1.
All that pitching from behind cost Johnson dearly in the fifth. With Damon on first base having walked, Royals rookie center fielder Carlos Beltran slammed a 1-0 pitch over the wall in right for a two-run homer.
"I really don't know what it was," Johnson said. "It wasn't a great start, but I kept us in the game and we won."
Johnson left two batters into the sixth trailing 3-2. Right-hander Al Reyes entered with runners on first and second and nobody out, and escaped with two fly balls and a strikeout.
Reyes, whom the Orioles acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Rocky Coppinger in July, has turned out to be a remarkably solid acquisition. Two scoreless innings tonight lowered his ERA to 1.13, and opponents are batting just .122 off him this season. Including two tonight, Reyes has stranded all six of his inherited runners since coming to the Orioles.
Asked if the increased production from the Orioles' bullpen can be traced to the acquisition of Reyes, Miller said: "There's absolutely no doubt. We've been begging for two years to get us someone who can get us through the sixth and seventh."