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ZEPHYRS HAVE THE LAST WORD IN A TALE OF TWO HITTERS

New Orleans beat the Buffalo Bisons, 2-1, at Pilot Field Sunday in a game that proved percentages are for accountants.

The Herd tied the score in the eighth on a homer by rookie Stanton Cameron. Never mind that Cameron was hitless in 15 trips and facing Jose Mercedes, who had been virtually unhittable for seven innings. Cameron is going to play until manager Doc Edwards deems him unworthy, and that day may be a long time coming.

What works in one dugout often works in the other. B.J. Surhoff doubled leading off the ninth in the final at-bat of his rehab stint and was bunted to third. The idea was to get a sacrifice fly out of Ozzie Canseco, a curious notion considering Canseco was zip for his last seven with five strikeouts and two groundouts.

Sure enough, Canseco drove the ball deep to right, and the Zephyrs had their first victory of the four-game series that concludes at 7 tonight (Radio 550).

"It made me feel good," Canseco said of manager Chris Bando's show of faith. "It made me feel like Chris believes in me. When a coach has that much confidence in me, it makes me a better hitter and a better player."

Hitting slumps present managers with constant dilemmas. Some slumps must be ridden out for the good of the player. Others must be interrupted for the good of the team. The longer an 0-fer continues, the more time a player spends wondering just where he stands.

Edwards quickly put Cameron at ease upon pulling the prized rookie into his office following another hitless game Saturday.

"I told him to relax," Edwards said. "I told him, 'You were sent here to play, and I'm going to put you in right field every day. The only time I'm going to take you out is if I think you need a day off because you're tired.' "

"I appreciated that," Cameron said. "A manager had never said that to me before."

The Baltimore Orioles were looking for instant help and a championship presence when they dealt Cameron to the Pirates last September for outfielder Lonnie Smith. Had the Orioles caught the Blue Jays, the deal could have been justified. They didn't, and now the price they paid seems exorbitant.

Cameron, who had hit a combined 50 homers his last two years in the Baltimore system, was batting .355 with seven homers and 30 RBIs when he was promoted to Buffalo from Double A Carolina.

He isn't the only notable young player Baltimore lost recently. The Orioles decided against protecting Mercedes on their 40-man roster over the winter. He is 23 years old, throws in the mid-90s and was Cameron's teammate at Double A Bowie last season.

Power pitchers like Mercedes are picked in the first round of the entry draft and signed for mega-bucks. Milwaukee picked him up in the Rule 5 draft for $50,000.

The only hitch is that Mercedes must remain on the Brewers' big-league roster. But, because he has been bothered by an abdominal strain, Mercedes is pitching in the minors on a rehab assignment.

He sure had the smooth hum of a Mercedes on Sunday as he retired 19 straight and held the Herd hitless from Tony Womack's first-inning single until the homer by Cameron captivated the crowd of 13,932.

"It was 3-and-1, and I guess he didn't want to walk me," Cameron said. "He took a little bit off the fastball."

Mercedes wasn't around for the decision. The Zephyrs went to Ron Rightnowar later in the inning, and Rightnowar improved to 3-0 by securing the final five outs.

Buffalo starter Rich Robertson didn't figure in the decision, either. What else is new? Whenever Robertson (2-5) puts up zeros, the Bisons almost seem obliged to match. He has been in a scoreless game through five innings in five of his eight starts.

"It's going to change sometime during the year," Robertson said. "There's just been kind of a string of them."

Bisons closer Mike Dyer (2-2) took the loss.

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