BALTIMORE, April 20 -- It was a test only an ace could survive and Bruce Chen had already proven able for the assignment. Two quality efforts -- one a complete-game win -- against the New York Yankees had heightened expectations for Chen, previously a journeyman pitcher and now the Baltimore Orioles' best starter. A third, perhaps more difficult, test awaited him when the World Series champion -- doesn't it still seem strange to say it? -- Boston Red Sox arrived in town.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards was awash with Red Sox crimson, a usual occurrence, only buoyed by a World Series title. Of the 36,478 fans in attendance a fair number were Red Sox fans, who were elated after the Red Sox, in an 8-0 win, wore Chen out, while the Orioles could not solve David Wells.
Today vs. Red Sox
Lopez (2-0) vs. Clement (1-0)
Tomorrow at Blue Jays
Cabrera (1-1) vs.
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Since last Aug. 25, the day he was called up by the Orioles, only one starting pitcher had a better ERA prior to Wednesday's game than Chen's 2.73: Minnesota Twins ace and reigning Cy Young winner Johan Santana.
Chen did not allow his first hit until the fifth, an infield single by catcher Jason Varitek, who barely beat a throw from third baseman Melvin Mora. Jay Payton followed with a bloop single over second baseman Brian Roberts, putting men on first and third with no outs.
Chen escaped the inning without major damage, but may have exhausted himself in the process. The lefty threw 33 pitches in the inning and made eight pickoff throws. He loaded the bases with two outs by walking Johnny Damon and then allowed the first run on a balk, scoring Varitek.
"I got the pitch I wanted" from catcher Geronimo Gil, Chen said of the balk. "I said yes before Geronimo finished the sequence. Then I stopped."
Chen ended the inning with 89 pitches, which wore on him more considering the situation.
"They have a real good lineup," he said. "They made me work real hard. I didn't want to give anything. I threw a lot of pitches in that inning."
Chen allowed a booming three-run home run to center field by Varitek the following inning, making the score 4-0. Chen was taken out of the game in the seventh after allowing a one-out double to Johnny Damon. His outing -- 6 1/3 innings, five runs -- was not horrible, though not an ace effort, either.
"I thought he pitched great," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He made one mistake."
Prior to the game, Mazzilli said the key to beating Wells was to get the lefty's pitch count high. But by the end of the fifth inning, Wells had thrown just 59 pitches and allowed only two hits.
"Once he gets on a roll, you try to break his rhythm," Mazzilli said. "It never got to that point. You ran into a buzz saw with him. He can do that to you."
In his first two starts, against the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, Wells -- signed to a two-year, $8 million deal in the offseason that could be worth $18 million with incentives -- was tagged for 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings. Wells lowered his ERA to 3.51 with his eight scoreless innings on Wednesday. He has not allowed a run in 15 consecutive innings.
"You wish you could have 35 starts like that, where you can just pinpoint the ball," Wells said.
The only threat against Wells came in the sixth inning, when the Orioles put two men on base with just one out. Mora struck out for the second out, bringing up Miguel Tejada, who has been masterful in the past week. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Tejada sent a deep drive toward the right field foul pole. He stood as the ball sailed just to the right of the pole. At home plate, Tejada winced at the lost opportunity. He ended the inning with a ground ball to shortstop.
"I was just happy to hit the ball so hard," Tejada said. "Nobody hit the ball in the air against him."
The 11 games in April against the Red Sox and Yankees are quick tests for the Orioles and Mazzilli. They aced the first portion of the exam, beating the Yankees five times out six. After Wednesday's loss, four games remain against the Red Sox this month. Chen is slated to start at Fenway Park on Monday. His daunting assignment continues.