Injuries don't stop Orioles

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

It may be early and it may be hard to avoid with the scoreboards imbedded like CNN reporters into the outfield wall at Rogers Centre ...

But there is scoreboard watching going on from inside the dugout of the first-place Baltimore Orioles. And with good reason.

"I looked out (Tuesday) and saw Tampa Bay beating the Yankees 10-2," Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Later, I looked and it was 10-7. I thought Tampa's done."

The Rays were edged 20-11 after giving up a 13-spot in the eighth to the Yankees.

Despite their loss last night, the Orioles have a one-game lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox and a five-game lead over the third-place New York Yankees in the American League East.

Who in Ft. Lauderdale in the spring would have thought it would be this way 2 1/2 weeks from the all-star break?

And who would have figured the Orioles would be hanging around after missing talented lefty Erik Bedard of Navan, Ont., for six starts, and four everyday players.

Catcher Javy Lopez has a broken right hand and won't be back until the all-star break; centre fielder Luis Matos was injured for six weeks with a fractured ring finger; right fielder Sammy Sosa was out 2 1/2 weeks with a staph infection on the bottom of his left foot and left fielder Larry Bigbie missed two weeks because of a left hamstring pull.

"The way our guys play ... it's like they don't know that we've been banged up," Mazzilli said. "Why worry about it? The other teams sure as heck don't feel sorry for you."

The Orioles aren't complaining about injuries the way some teams do. Instead, they are motoring along.

After scoring two touchdowns and two field goals against Tampa Bay, the Yanks lost 5-3 yesterday afternoon.

"The Yankees are two different teams, you don't know which one will show up," Mazzilli said.

SOMETHING IN THE WATER?

There must be a common denominator in Baltimore's Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River that runs through the capital -- both the Washington Nationals and the O's sitting atop their respective divisions.

Baltimore's decision-makers, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, brought in talent in shortstop Miguel Tejada, Lopez and Sosa, but few figured the team's pitching would be good enough to keep the O's close, even if Baltimore's team ERA of 4.17 ranks it seventh.

After all, money means wins. Not in the AL East. The Yanks and their $208.3-million US team payroll has 37 wins, while the Red Sox weigh in at $123.5 million with 41 wins. Baltimore is 14th overall with $73.9 million with 42.

"Our pitching is better than a year ago," Mazzilli said. "Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard have another year under their belt. Sidney Ponson was 3-12 (with a 6.29 ERA) in the first half a year ago"

Going into tonight's series finale, Ponson is 7-4, while Bedard has been the O's most effective pitcher before he was sidelined with a sprained ligament in his left knee. He's 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA, walking 14 and striking out 52 in 60 2/3 innings.

About then, Tejada bounced over to where Mazzilli was sitting in the Baltimore dugout.

"I didn't get a hit yesterday," Tejada said, although he did. "I'll try to get one tonight ... if not tonight, then tomorrow and if not tomorrow ..."

Mazzilli interjected with a playful "if not then ... you won't be playing."

Tejada may or may not be the best player in the American League, but no one has more fun. He singled with two out in the first against Pete Walker. It was a routine single to centre, or so it seemed ... to everyone but Tejada, who never broke slide and slid into second base ahead of Vernon Wells' throw.

The Orioles didn't score, but they are playing the game the right way.


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