07/12/09 12:39 AM ET
Perfect timing: Mora's walk-off tops Jays
Veteran ends homerless drought with clutch shot in 12th
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
"When I was running and I crossed first base," he said on Saturday after Baltimore's 4-3 win over Toronto, "I just think, 'Oh my god, all the questions I have to answer today after the game. You haven't hit one home run since [May].' But it's a good feeling, especially when you win the game. ... Our bullpen was able to shut it down."
And then, like so many conclusions in so many soap operas, Mora answered the bell. First, the veteran was on the business end of a tough defensive play that scuttled Toronto's best chance of pulling ahead. Then, with the game winding into the 12th inning, Mora mercifully ended it with a towering home run to right field.
That long ball, as routine as it seemed, broke the longest homerless drought of his career. Mora hadn't homered since May 7, and he endured a power outage for 50 games and 190 at-bats. And if that seems like it's noteworthy enough, you may also consider that Mora hadn't hit a walk-off shot since April of the 2000 season.
"Melvin picked a good time to get one," said manager Dave Trembley, who sat out the evening while serving the second half of a two-game suspension. "I've heard him say he's not a home run hitter, but it's certainly nice for him to get one tonight and win the game. Everybody dreams of that, a walk-off [to] win the game at home in extra innings. That's a special moment. He's played here for a long time, and it's got to make him feel real good."
Mora, the longest-tenured member of the team, had actually never hit a walk-off as an Oriole. And he may never have gotten the chance if he hadn't stayed with a tough grounder in the 11th. Toronto had two outs and a runner at both of the infield corners, and catcher Rod Barajas smoked a tough two-hopper directly at Mora at third.
The two-time All-Star took the ball right in the gut, and with Barajas not moving well up the baseline, he immediately scampered after the ball. Mora was able to retrieve it and throw Barajas out in plenty of time, ending the most intense moment of the night for Baltimore. After that, he was free to reprise his heroics on offense.
"I stay in the tunnel for like one hour," said Mora, exaggerating the time element just a touch. "I lay down on the stairs. It knocked [the] air out of me, so I was able to come back and play one more inning."
"For me, the big thing is that Melvin made the play against Barajas and stayed in the game," said bench coach Dave Jauss, who managed in place of Trembley. "He took a shot, and it hit him directly.
"And he had to breathe it through and then go out there and suck it up. The home run is tremendous, but you know what? After making that great play and getting hurt, he could've been out, too. But he didn't."
Baltimore (39-48) got going early against Ricky Romero, using a two-out double by Matt Wieters in the second inning and a solo homer from Luke Scott in the fourth to take control. Aubrey Huff doubled in a run in the sixth, and the Orioles didn't push another runner to scoring position until Nick Markakis doubled in the 11th.
Through all that time, though, Baltimore's bullpen was busy holding serve. The Orioles never trailed, but they allowed the Blue Jays to tie the game in the eighth inning against setup man Jim Johnson. Baltimore cycled through closer George Sherrill in the ninth and got two strong innings from Brian Bass to stay alive.
Bass, in fact, threw 41 pitches and got two key outs with the potential winning run on third base in the 11th.
"This was a good team win," said Jauss. "As much as it's Mora hitting a home run, you talk about the team. Guys threw a lot of quality pitches, and Matt Wieters caught a great game. I overheard Dave talking about Gregg [Zaun] working with pitchers and working with Wieters, and the combination showed today."
And it even showed with the starting pitcher. Rich Hill, who was pushed out of his scheduled start and thrown into Saturday night's game due to Jeremy Guthrie's viral infection, pitched like he was the main attraction. Hill began using a sinker on the outside corner, allowing him to set up his curveball and work off his fastball.
It worked to great effect for most of the evening. The left-hander got half of his 18 outs on fly balls and only allowed two runners to reach scoring position in the first four innings. The Blue Jays (44-45) tied the game against Hill in the fifth, but the Orioles forged ahead with another run in the sixth. Hill left in the seventh with a one-run lead.
And here's why that's noteworthy: The Orioles had previously seen enough of Hill and attempted to skip his final start before the All-Star break. Trembley had said that he'd use the break to reevaluate the southpaw's role on the team, but then he had to change his mind once Guthrie went down with an illness.
Trembley was noncommittal after the game, but Hill insisted that his confidence is fine.
"I felt like I've been throwing the ball well, [although] I haven't been getting the results that I'd like to," Hill said. "Then again, this has been something that's been more than a year. I missed 2008.
"Coming into this season, yeah, I would've liked to have started the year with the team. Unfortunately, a setback in Spring Training, and now I feel like I'm just starting to hit my stride a little bit."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.