Orioles 5, Rangers 4

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BALTIMORE (AP)—The Baltimore Orioles aren’t ready to start thinking about the playoffs, just because they’ve got a winning record in early June.

After all, this is a team that hasn’t finished over .500 since 1997. Last season, Baltimore went 4-32 after reaching the break-even point on Aug. 23.

So after the Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers 5-4 Sunday to improve to 28-27, manager Mike Hargrove cautioned, “Last time I checked, we still have over 100 games to play. That’s a lot of baseball.”

But owning a winning record, he said, “sure beats the alternative.”

Jeff Conine singled in the tiebreaking run in the eighth inning after a costly throwing error by Hank Blalock, lifting the Orioles to their ninth win in 11 games.

The victory put Baltimore over .500 (28-27) for the first time since May 9. Baltimore took three of four from Texas to move within striking distance of first place in the AL East.

“It’s fun,” Conine said. “We’re playing so well right now. Everyone in the lineup is contributing. There’s a long way to go, but we’ve got a lot of confidence right now.”

The Orioles trailed 4-3 in the eighth before Deivi Cruz singled and took second when Francisco Cordero (2-5) walked Melvin Mora with two outs.

B.J. Surhoff then hit a smash down the third-base line that Blalock dived for and gloved. Blalock took a step toward third, but quickly realized he couldn’t get there before Cruz. He then threw wildly to first, allowing Cruz to score the tying run.

“If I could do it over again, I would have stood up and gone directly to first base,” Blalock said. “I made a bad decision, thinking I could step on the base for an easy out.”

Conine followed with a single to left, his second RBI of the game.

“That’s what they count on me to do,” Conine said. “You get in that situation as the cleanup hitter, you have to deliver.”

Sidney Ponson (7-3) allowed four runs and seven hits in eight innings to improve to 6-1 over his last seven starts. Jorge Julio worked the ninth for his 14th save.

Mora gave Baltimore a 3-2 lead with a solo home run in the sixth, a drive that extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games.

Alex Rodriguez answered in the seventh with a two-run, two-out homer that put Texas back in front. Two batters before the drive, Carl Everett reached first base when umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled Conine missed the tag on a wide throw from third baseman Tony Batista.

Conine and Hargrove argued the call in vain. Replays appeared to show Conine’s glove touched Everett before the runner reached the bag.

“I thought I got him,” Conine said.

Fortunately for the Orioles, the disputed call ultimately did not matter.

The Rangers, who stranded seven runners and couldn’t hold onto leads of 2-1 and 4-3, scored only six runs in the final three games of the series.

“This was a game we had a chance to win. I’ll remember the chances we had earlier to score more runs,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That’ll stick in my craw, that we haven’t been swinging the bat as well as we’re capable.”

After Conine singled in a run to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the third, the Rangers scored twice in the fourth on an RBI double by Mark Teixeira and a run-scoring grounder by Michael Young.

Baltimore tied in the bottom half when starter Colby Lewis walked the firsttwo batters and Cruz singled in a run.

Notes

Surhoff got his first start for Baltimore since May 3, going 2-for-5 as a DH. He was on the DL from May 4-27. … Texas hit four doubles and had 13 in the four-game series. … Baltimore hit .289 in May, its best month since June ’99 (.308). … The Orioles’ Luis Matos extended his hitting streak to acareer-high nine games.

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