Orioles 5, Nationals 1

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Kris Benson provided plenty of thrills for those Baltimore Orioles fans who made the short drive down to D.C.

Benson allowed only one run in his sixth career complete game, and Baltimore beat the Washington Nationals 5-1 Friday night in the first regular-season major league game between the cities since 1971.

Five Orioles each drove in one run, and third baseman Melvin Mora delivered three singles and added a diving defensive play, hours after a news conference in Baltimore to announce his $25 million, three-year contract extension.

Washington’s RFK Stadium is about 35 miles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, making Baltimore’s players pleased to be able to head to their homes during the three-game “road” series. But there wasn’t all that much buzz among the crowd of 30,320, more than 16,000 shy of capacity – even if shortly before the first pitch, the PA announcer intoned: “Let the Battle of the Beltway’ begin!”

Sure, there was a contingent of Orioles fans who let out their traditional yell of, “O’s!!!” to coincide with the line that begins, “Oh, say does that …” during the national anthem. And the requisite amount of locals who booed that.

In truth, there was plenty for the locals to jeer in their team’s performance, including two errors and little offense, as the Nationals dropped to 3-11 at home.

Washington was shut out in two of its previous three games and appeared headed for another blanking until Alfonso Soriano drove a solo shot to left in the eighth for his 14th homer.

That was the only blip for Benson (6-3), who gave up five hits in his longest outing of the season. It was his first complete game since Sept. 14, 2004, for the Mets against the Braves.

Nationals starter Mike O’Connor (2-2), never above Class-A before this season, left after six innings. He allowed two runs on six hits, with three walks and five strikeouts. The Orioles broke the game open with three runs off reliever Felix Rodriguez.

The Orioles and Senators met 350 times from 1954-71, with Baltimore dominating. Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who once hit two grand slams in a game at RFK Stadium for Baltimore, said Orioles-Senators never really felt like a rivalry – and this new edition might not, either, for some time.

“It’s something that has to be built up over the years, and both these clubs have to be competitive and there has to be some interest, there has to be some nastiness between the two teams, a couple knockdown brawls, whatever,” Robinson said.

“There has to be some ingredients put into the pot and stir it up to make it a rivalry.”

The closest to that sort of thing came in the eighth, when Rodriguez hit Miguel Tejada in the hip, loading the bases. Two innings earlier, Benson had thrown Ryan Zimmerman an 0-2 pitch up-and-in, forcing the Nationals’ rookie to spin out of the way – and drawing loud grumbling from some home fans.

Well, and O’Connor did get hit, but that was on a liner up the middle off Jay Gibbons’ bat in the fourth. The ball smacked O’Connor in the left shoulder, and he was visited on mound by trainers and Robinson, but stayed in the game.

Baltimore didn’t really get to O’Connor until the sixth. With Jeff Conine aboard thanks to a four-pitch walk, Corey Patterson lined a shot over the head of right fielder Daryle Ward – starting for the injured Jose Guillen – for his first triple of the season to make it 1-0. That drew cheers from black-and-orange-clad Baltimore fans, which in turn drew boos from Washington’s supporters.

That was about as animated as either partisan group got.

Benson was up next, and he hit a slow dribbler between the mound and first. O’Connor fielded the ball and threw to the bag – without looking home – as the speedy Patterson scored to make it 2-0.

Baltimore added RBI hits by Conine and Hernandez in the seventh. An inning later, Patterson singled, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Wiki Gonzalez, and scored on Ed Rogers’ RBI single.

Every Orioles starter had at least one hit or RBI except Kevin Millar, who knows a thing or two about a big baseball rivalry from his days in the Red Sox-Yankees fray.

Asked what would turn Baltimore-Washington into something significant, Miller offered a simple answer.

“Winning. You’ve got to win. Nobody’s interested in two teams that aren’t winning,” Millar said. “Once you throw winning into the equation, it becomes a rivalry.”

Notes: Guillen (right hamstring) sat out a second consecutive game. … Nationals RHP John Patterson, on the DL with a right forearm injury, threw 45 pitches in his first bullpen session since getting an injection 10 days ago.

AP-ES-05-19-06 2212EDT

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