Orioles 5, Tigers 0
With their position in third place secure, the Baltimore Orioles have begun a new campaign, one they hope will bring their inspiring shortstop a second most valuable player award.
The Orioles completed a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with a 5-0 win and, of course, it was Miguel Tejada who led them. His two-run, 402-foot home run in the first gave them a 2-0 lead and his RBI single in the eighth, which tied the Orioles single-season RBI mark of 142 held by Rafael Palmeiro, provided a cushion. Rodrigo Lopez pitched his first shutout of the year, the second of his career and helped continue a string of 21 consecutive scoreless innings for the Baltimore pitching staff. With 14 wins, Lopez, who began the year in the bullpen, is only one away from tying his career best.
Yet the spotlight was on Tejada, who Sunday completed a week in which he was 14 for 29 with three home runs and 11 RBI. As the season heads toward a finish, Tejada is determined not to allow his Orioles, who have won eight of 11 games, to fade.
"I just want to see how far I can go and help the team," Tejada said. "Right now, I'm just happy to see the way the team is playing."
Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts and Javy Lopez have certainly helped stabilize the offense, but Tejada has carried it, becoming the best shortstop in baseball, and perhaps the gap is not so narrow.
"I don't know who is better," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Entering the day he led all shortstops in home runs and leads the majors in RBI. His nearest shortstop competitor in RBI started the day 42 behind. Even Alex Rodriguez, considered the best shortstop in baseball until a move to the New York Yankees forced him to third base, has a lower batting average and 40 fewer RBI. Tejada had been mentioned as the lesser of the group of stellar AL shortstops that included Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra (now in the NL). But he has surpassed all of them. Last season as a shortstop, Rodriguez, who hit 47 home runs with 117 RBI, won the MVP on a last-place team. Could Tejada win on a third-place team?
"Alex had a good season last year, but Miguel is having a tremendous season," Palmeiro, Rodriguez's teammate last year, said in Spanish. "He needs to get consideration for MVP. He better be in the top three, that's all I can say."
On the day the Orioles unveiled their 50th anniversary team, is it so far-fetched to think Tejada, 27, could one day be considered the franchise's best shortstop? Not even Cal Ripken has produced a year like Tejada's 2004 season. With a week remaining in the season, Tejada stands only two home runs behind Ripken's career-high of 34 and has 28 more RBI than Ripken's career-best of 114 in 1991, a year he won the MVP on a sixth-place Orioles team.
"Being on a championship team or a winning team, that does have some merit," another great former shortstop, Tigers Manager Alan Trammell, said. "I certainly believe in that to a certain degree. But my gosh, [Tejada] plays every day, defensively is playing very well and is leading the majors in RBI and is hitting well over .300 [.314]."
Tejada's best performance of the season changes almost daily. On Friday, he beat the Tigers with a three-run homer in the ninth inning. Tejada said he is playing as well as he did in his 2002 MVP season, when he hit 34 home runs with 131 RBI for the first-place Oakland Athletics. Palmeiro thinks Tejada is even better.
"This year," Palmeiro said, "he has risen to a higher level."
Orioles Note: Third base coach Tom Trebelhorn handed out a news release saying he voted for Jorge Posada as the American League Gold Glove catcher and added, "this selection is based upon Jorge's defensive prowess and durability and not his skills of observation or tact." Posada and Trebelhorn engaged in a heated argument after a Sept. 12 game when the Yankees catcher accused the Orioles of trying to steal the location of pitches. Posada laughed when told of the news release. "I need more than one vote," Posada told reporters in Boston. "If they want to cheat they can cheat. Just make it a little less obvious. Mazzilli is like a dad to me. I love Mazz. I respect him, but it seemed like they were doing it."