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When George Sherrill took the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve another improbable Orioles win, his first baseman was Luke Scott, who had played one inning at the position in his major league career.
Ty Wigginton was at shortstop, a position that he's never started a game at in his career, and Brian Roberts was at second base after he wasn't supposed to be in the game at all due to a 10-day battle with an upper-respiratory infection.
The Orioles pulled out all the stops Wednesday to win a game that they probably had no business winning. Trailing by three runs after failing in their first 11 tries to get a hit with a runner in scoring position, the Orioles took advantage of two Jose Lopez errors and scored five times in the ninth inning to beat the Seattle Mariners, 5-3, in front of an announced 27,040 at Safeco Field.
Sherrill retired pinch hitter Ken Griffey Jr. with a man on for the final out as the Orioles (38-47) salvaged a 3-4 West Coast trip, and won for the third time in the past three weeks when trailing by at least two runs in the ninth inning. It also was just their second victory in 12 road finales this season.
"I think this was probably one of the better team wins we've had all year simply from the standpoint of [it was] a great effort by everybody," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "We played all 27 outs again, and guys were real calm about their approach. No one got down after the seventh when it would have been easy to let the air come out of the ball right there. I thought they kept attacking."
It certainly stood to be one of the Orioles' worst losses in a frustrating first half had their fortunes not changed so dramatically in the ninth against Mariners closer David Aardsma, who had blown only one save in 18 tries this season and hadn't given up an earned run since May 31.
The Orioles, fresh off a 12-run breakout Tuesday, had a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings against Seattle's control-challenged starter Jason Vargas and never scored.
They trailed 2-0 heading into the seventh inning with the game's only runs coming on Lopez's two-run shot off rookie David Hernandez in the first inning. But in the seventh, Gregg Zaun singled to right. Pinch hitter Oscar Salazar drew a walk and Adam Jones reached on an error by third baseman Chris Woodward, loading the bases with no outs. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu lifted Miguel Batista and summoned former Oriole Garrett Olson into the game to face Nick Markakis.
The Orioles, who traded Olson for Felix Pie this offseason, had seen the left-hander melt down in similar spots the past two seasons. But he needed just nine pitches to get out of the jam without giving up a run, striking out Markakis and coaxing Ty Wigginton to hit into a double play. That left the Orioles 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
"Everybody was kind of frozen right there," said Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora. "This guy came in and faced Nick and the middle of the lineup and was able to get out of it. We felt like everybody was in shock."
It was Mora who started the Orioles' five-run ninth inning rally with a double to right-center field off Aardsma. Zaun drew a walk, Salazar singled to left and Jones drove in the first run with an infield single to third base.
Markakis then hit what should have been a double-play ball, but it was booted by Lopez, making the score 3-2 with the bases still loaded and nobody out. That's when Wigginton, who had hit into a double play in his previous two at-bats, grounded Aardsma's first pitch up the middle to score two runs and give the Orioles their first lead.
"Really, the inning before didn't even cross my mind," Wigginton said. "I felt this whole entire road trip, I executed my plan at the plate, and it was just a matter of doing the same thing. I got a slider up in the zone and I was able to hit it up the middle."
The Orioles would score another run in the inning, when Lopez bounced a throw on Roberts' groundball with two outs. During the at-bat, Aubrey Huff was picked off first base with runners on first and third and one out, straining his left groin in the process and forcing Trembley to go with the unconventional infield alignment in the bottom of the ninth. Two of the three outs in the frame, where Sherrill secured his 19th save, were putouts by Wigginton to Scott at first base.
"Well, the guys told me if I stuck around for nine, something good would happen, so I kept good on my promise and they kept good on theirs," said Trembley who was ejected in the first inning Tuesday.