Orioles 4, Reds 3
It had taken nine pitches for Melvin Mora to finally get a fastball over the middle of the plate that he could drive against Cincinnati Reds starter Aaron Harang. The ball soared over the left-center field wall, striking a sign advertising a local steakhouse.
The impressive blast helped Baltimore to a 4-3 victory over the Reds, but Mora's home run -- his 13th of the season -- was not even the most important at-bat of the third inning in the teams' first meeting since the 1970 World Series.
David Newhan's eight-pitch walk preceding Mora's homer kept the inning alive. With a man on first base and two outs, Newhan forced Harang to work by fouling off four pitches. After constantly fighting off pitches, two of them with a full count, Harang walked back to the mound in frustration. Finally, Newhan took a ball low and walked to first base. Mora followed with his 424-foot home run.
"When I hit behind Newhan, it makes me more relaxed because he just fouls off a lot of pitches and I can see the rotation of the pitches thrown," Mora said. "So I like to hit behind him because I know he's always going to fight with the pitcher."
Rodrigo Lopez, meantime, bounced back from one of his worst starts of the year last week against Detroit by working out of a fifth-inning jam.
With no outs, the Reds loaded the bases on a double, a walk and an infield single. Catcher Jason LaRue grounded to third. Mora bobbled the ball but still got the force at home. Lopez then struck out Harang and got Ryan Freel to fly out. Lopez was greeted in the dugout by pitching coach Ray Miller, who patted his starting pitcher on the back and pounded catcher Geronimo Gil on the chest.
"Everything worked out pretty good," Lopez said. "That was pretty fortunate I didn't give up any runs."
The Reds again loaded the bases against Lopez in the sixth, though it was not all his fault. With one out and runners on first and second, Rafael Palmeiro allowed a ball hit by Wily Mo Pena to scoot under his legs, which loaded the bases. A dejected Lopez was replaced by Steve Kline, who allowed a run to score on a wild pitch, but got the final two outs.
"I felt he was getting the ball up," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said of pulling Lopez. "I didn't want to get him into a situation where he tried to make the perfect pitch. That was the time to do it."
Lopez pitched 51/3 innings and allowed just two runs on five hits. He won for the third time in four starts.
Baltimore, which is 6-5 on its 13-game road trip and leads the American League East by four games, had only two base runners and did not hit a ball out of the infield against Harang after that third inning.
The Orioles, however, added to their lead in the eighth against reliever Kent Mercker. With one out, Mora doubled to right field, and Miguel Tejada followed with a double to left to score Mora.
Five Orioles relievers allowed just one run over the final 32/3 innings to secure the win. The only run came on Ken Griffey Jr.'s 10th home run of the season in the eighth inning. By simply being in the lineup, Griffey had helped make history. Friday was the first time three players (Sammy Sosa and Palmeiro included) with 500 or more home runs played in the same game.
Yet a home run played only a secondary role in this game. The most important at-bat of the night did not end with a ball landing over the fence or even the infield. It landed off the plate, in LaRue's glove.
"If I take anything positive out of tonight, that's got to be it," Newhan said. "It turned out to be a big at-bat. You realize what you have behind you. Once I got to 3-2, with the guys behind me, I'm not going to mess around."