Orioles 5, Devil Rays 2
It had not sunk in for Sam Perlozzo that he had been given control of a major league team -- if that's what you can call the Baltimore Orioles these days -- until he stepped into the manager's office at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the first time since his promotion and could not comfortably sit in the leather chair at his new large wooden desk.
He walked around the desk, trying to acclimate himself. The room had been emptied of Lee Mazzilli's belongings and it was Perlozzo's task to begin decorating. A few pictures had been tacked to a corkboard. But the room was not entirely his until Perlozzo sat in the leather chair for the first time as manager and addressed the media. He could not do it right away. It did not seem his. Eventually, he took a seat and addressed the media.
"It's pretty strange," he said. "This is just something you dream about and you don't know if you get that chance. It's overwhelming to know you would have all your life worked hard and now you get the chance."
In previous years, when managing for an absent Mike Hargrove, Perlozzo refused to sit in that chair because it was not his. But it certainly is his now.
How comfortable that seat remains and how long he gets to sit in it will largely depend on his team, a 5-2 winner against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday night. The Orioles are no longer just fighting for themselves this season, but also for their new manager's job.
A new set of players awaited Perlozzo on Tuesday as he arrived at the ballpark for the first time as a manager. Injuries to Sidney Ponson and B.J. Surhoff and the demotion of pitcher Chris Ray forced the call up of three minor leaguers. One of them, Alejandro Freire, a career minor leaguer making his first major league appearance at age 30, seemed as awestruck as Perlozzo had been.
"It's amazing, especially since Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora are here," Freire said. "You never expect you're going to be in the big leagues. I think all my hard work has paid off."
The shortage of first basemen -- lest anybody forget Rafael Palmeiro is still suspended for steroids -- forced Perlozzo to immediately insert Freire into the starting lineup. While Chris Gomez played first base, Freire was the designated hitter.
In his first major league at-bat, Freire sent a deep drive to center field. He raced out of the batter's box and headed to first base. The ball continued to carry but was caught at the fence by Tampa Bay center fielder Damon Hollins. Freire dipped his head in disappointment. Once again, the Orioles had fallen just short of a good story.
Perhaps, the only good story for the Orioles right now is Eric Byrnes, who has a hit in all of his 10 games for Baltimore. Acquired on July 29 for Larry Bigbie, Byrnes tied Tuesday's game at 2 with a home run to left field against Tampa starter Scott Kazmir. Byrnes had also made a running catch in left field on scorching drive hit by Devil Rays DH Aubrey Huff.
The Orioles had made it a point to say that Byrnes would inject the team with energy. He has clearly done that even though it hasn't always translated into wins. A front office besieged by criticism for failing to make a major acquisition before the trading deadline may have gotten its redemption with Byrnes.
The Devil Rays had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the second on a two-run single by catcher Toby Hall. It did not appear Baltimore starter Erik Bedard would be effective on this night. He walked three in the first two innings and piled up a pitch count reminiscent of his rookie season last year. But unlike last year, Bedard settled down and pitched effectively. He did not allow another run.
Baltimore took the lead for good in the seventh inning on a single by Mora, scoring Gomez. On the play Byrnes slid safely, headfirst, of course, into third base and scored on Tejada's single.
If there is any sign of a Baltimore collapse, it certainly won't be seen with Tejada. The shortstop emphatically pumped his fist after his single in the seventh, a remarkable move by a player on a fourth-place team playing against a last-place team. It may be a sign that perhaps there is still hope for Perlozzo's team yet.