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Orioles figure out old nemesis

Orioles figure out old nemesis

BALTIMORE -- To many Orioles players, regardless of how long Andy Pettitte pitches for the Astros or how many National League Central titles the left-hander can help them win, he will always be a New York Yankee.

On countless occasions, Pettitte donned that grey uniform with the navy blue cap and dominated the Orioles at Camden Yards. Only Secretariat was a surer bet.

Yet, this Orioles club carried a different outlook when Pettitte stepped to the mound for Houston on a sweltering night on Tuesday at Camden Yards. Perhaps the past Orioles clubs, the ones who felt inferior to talented pitchers, especially those from New York, would have succumbed to a vintage Pettitte -- as he was this time.

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This group, however, used patience, not over-aggression, to beat Pettitte and the Astros, 6-1, in front of 24,659 for its second straight win. Bruce Chen bested Pettitte with seven scoreless innings.

Pettitte, who entered the start with a 20-4 career record against the Orioles, including a 12-2 mark at Camden Yards, and with an eight-game winning streak versus the O's, did not allow a runner to second base through five innings. He has had a tough time since signing a three-year deal with the Astros before the 2004 season. He missed most of last season with a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow, and this year, he has received little run support -- as was the case on Tuesday.

In the sixth inning, Pettitte allowed a one-out single to Larry Bigbie, who has looked like a different player since coming off the disabled list. Bigbie moved to second base on a Brian Roberts' grounder, and then Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli made a move dripping with gamesmanship.

Houston first baseman Lance Berkman appeared to slightly injure his surgically-repaired knee fielding Roberts' grounder, and he walked toward the Astros' dugout after making the play. Manager Phil Garner met Berkman on the field before he reached the dugout. Berkman's knee was fine, and the only reason why he headed over to the Houston bench was because he thought there were three outs.

While walking back to first, Berkman said a few words to Pettitte.

Mazzilli jumped out of the dugout and pointed out to home-plate umpire Jim Wolfe that it should constitute a mound visit.

Wolfe called the other three umpires for a conference. Meanwhile, Pettitte waited and waited. Finally, it was ruled a visit.

"That's the correct ruling," Garner admitted. "After I talked with Lance, it doesn't matter what was said. Lance stopped and talked to the pitcher at the mound, and that constitutes a trip."

Berkman admitted after the game that he wasn't hurt. In fact, he thought there were three outs in the inning, when there were only two.

After the delay, Melvin Mora laced a single to left-center field for the game's first run.

Mora clapped his hands vigorously, because the Orioles had finally broken through.

Next, Miguel Tejada got a two-seam fastball that didn't cut inside, and he smashed it for his team-leading 18th home run and a 3-0 lead.

Tejada thrust his fist as he rounded the bases.

"We just kept battling. The key was that we just got a run, because you knew it was going to tough to score," Tejada said. "When you face a pitcher like Pettitte, you have to go out there and see that ball, be patient."

   Miguel Tejada  /   SS
Born: 05/25/76
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 200 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

After a difficult ending to a 13-game road trip, during which they lost four of the final five games to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Orioles needed some momentum. As expected, the Red Sox and Yankees have returned home and gotten well against the Reds and Pirates, respectively.

So this was a pivotal win.

"This is definitely a new-and-improved team compared to a couple of years ago," said Bigbie, who had his second consecutive three-hit game. "I have been here through the rough times. And it feels good to play a good ballgame and come through against a tough pitcher."

In his fifth attempt, Chen (6-4, 3.31 ERA) finally earned his sixth win and notched his 10th quality start. He has been sharper, but Chen pitched well with men on base, evidenced by Houston's 0-for-9 clip with runners in scoring position. He left two runners stranded in the second, three in the fourth and two more in the sixth.

Chen battled with his control and pitched deep into counts, but he was able to get the lazy fly ball or key strikeout. He gave up just three hits, but he allowed nine baserunners.

"It didn't seem like they were hitting the ball hard off of him," Mazzilli said. "He has experience. He doesn't get rattled, and [he] stays within his game. He's been like that all year."

When Chen left the game, the Orioles held a precarious 3-0 lead -- and the bullpen nearly blew it in the eighth. Jorge Julio came on and hit Craig Biggio with a pitch, then walked Berkman. Steve Reed came on and walked Morgan Ensberg to load the bases with no outs.

Reed, who entered the game with an 11.88 ERA at Camden Yards, struck out Jason Lane and induced a fielder's-choice grounder for the second out as Biggio scored. Brad Ausmus then popped out to end the threat.

Garner stuck with Pettitte in the eighth, and it could have made the difference. Bigbie singled again, and Tejada walked. Sammy Sosa delivered a two-out RBI single, and after a walk to Eli Marrero, Pettitte gave up a two-run single by Rafael Palmeiro past the shift defense for a 6-1 lead.

The dominance was over. A weary Pettitte was removed after 117 pitches. The Orioles' patience finally was rewarded.

"Man, he's a smart pitcher," Palmeiro said. "But I think we had a good game plan. We had some at-bats as the game went on, and it was a good team win, a satisfying win."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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