BOSTON, April 26 -- It was a slow and sloppy game that lit up the scoreboard and wrecked two starting pitchers' ERA, the kind of contest they have played at Fenway Park for almost 100 years. In this old house, a group of singular superstars from the Baltimore Orioles may have solidified themselves as a team. On a night when the ace had nothing, the bullpen pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and the offense responded with a thrilling comeback in their 11-8 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.
"That's the biggest win we've had the whole year," shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "It's not easy to beat them."
In front of 35,670, Fenway Park's biggest regular season crowd since 1990, the Orioles trailed the defending World Series champions by five runs heading into the fifth inning. In that fifth, they began a remarkable comeback that now has them in first place by three games for the first time since Sept. 25, 1997. Tejada hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning against Boston closer Keith Foulke to give the Orioles a one-run lead, then Javy Lopez followed two batters later with a two-run homer to pad the lead. The game was won, not by the actions of one of the superstars, but by the collective effort of an entire team.
"Right now, looking around this team," Lopez said, "I don't see a reason why we should lose a game. We have everything a team wants to have."
There are no better teams to engage in a slugfest than the Red Sox and Orioles, who boast the most powerful offenses in baseball. Entering the day the teams led the American League in runs scored.
The last out was recorded 4 hours 3 minutes after the first pitch was thrown. B.J. Ryan, one of four Baltimore relievers, pitched that final out, ending a spectacular night for the bullpen.
"I look at this whole team, what they did," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "From top to bottom, everybody did something."
Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez does not falter often against Boston -- his eight wins against them the last three years are the most by any pitcher against the Red Sox -- but when he does, it turns ugly. In 14 career starts against the Red Sox, Lopez has given up eight runs three times. Nine times he hasn't allowed more than two runs.
Lopez appeared out of sync as soon as the first inning. He retired the side in order, but Boston hitters appeared to see the ball well against him. Two of the three outs were struck hard into the outfield.
Lopez fell apart in the five-run second inning. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck another, while throwing 35 pitches. Very quickly it was obvious that Lopez would not pitch deep into the game.
With one out in the fourth, Manny Ramirez hit a three-run home run that put Boston ahead 8-3. Lopez left the game after having allowed eight runs and seven hits in just 3 1/3 innings.
The question was whether the powerful Baltimore offense would be given a chance to come back. On Thursday Boston starter Matt Clement and Lopez engaged in a classic pitcher's duel that ended in a 1-0 Red Sox win. The run was unearned.
Neither pitcher came close to repeating his performance.
Clement was tagged for seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings. With two outs in the fifth, and with five runs scored against Clement, Boston Manager Terry Francona walked to the mound to remove his starter from a game that had suddenly turned close. Clement immediately disapproved of the move. Taking Clement out of the game at that point denied the pitcher the win.
He turned toward the Green Monster and refused to look at Francona. The manager took the ball, all the while Clement never looked Francona in the eye. He simply walked from the mound, never stopped to talk to teammates and headed into the clubhouse.
Alan Embree entered the game and allowed a two-run double to Larry Bigbie, making the score 8-7. The Orioles' comeback was almost complete. Three innings later, it was.
"The most important thing that happened is that it wasn't just one guy," Tejada said. "We're not going to win from behind every time. But we're going to try."