BALTIMORE, April 21 -- Two pitchers who once anonymously shared a game of catch on a dusty day in the desert 11 years ago met again Thursday, starting for their teams in an early fight for first place at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Rodrigo Lopez and Matt Clement, pitchers for the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, respectively, pitched on the same field for the first time since 1994, and while Lopez was superb, Clement was slightly better, shutting down the suddenly-anemic Orioles offense in a 1-0 win.
In their first meeting, a side-by-side throwing session in Peoria, Ariz., Lopez was an 18-year-old spring training invitee on loan from a Mexican team to the San Diego Padres. Clement, then 19, was in his first professional season after being drafted in the third round the previous year. At that point, they were complete unknowns. Not anymore.
The Orioles' Brian Roberts can't find an answer for Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement in striking out in the third inning.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
On Thursday they engaged in a pitching duel that is rare in these days of power offenses. Making it more impressive were the lineups they faced -- the Orioles and Red Sox both began the night ranked in the top six in runs scored in the American League.
"Every pitch, every inning was intense," Lopez said. "It was a pretty intense game. I know one pitch could cost me the game."
Baltimore, which had pounded the New York Yankees' and Detroit Tigers' pitching staffs, was held without a run in the two-game series against the world champion Red Sox. First it was David Wells, who did not allow a run in his eight innings on Wednesday. Then it was Clement, who cruised through eight innings.
The Orioles have not scored a run in 21 innings, a span that includes the final three innings of Tuesday's game against the Tigers. Only one runner reached third base in the two losses to Boston.
"This team is far from being in a drought," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We were up against two good pitchers on two nights."
Lopez had beaten the Red Sox eight times in the past three seasons, the most wins against Boston in that time span, and seemed a good bet to repeat another quality performance. He was masterful, limiting the Red Sox to five hits and one unearned run in eight innings. The only run scored on a groundout by Ramon Vazquez.
"It's a little bit frustrating not to get a win," Lopez said. "I think it was one of my best performances of the entire season. I don't think it was a waste. I got the respect from that team."
Baltimore's best opportunity to score came in the fourth, when Rafael Palmeiro, on first base, was thrown out at home on a double by Jay Gibbons.
"I thought my foot was in there," Palmeiro said. "It was a tough call, you know? You've got to make it right away, it was bang-bang, so he made the call he had to make, but I thought my foot was in there."
While Clement appears to have nicely slotted himself into the middle of the Red Sox' rotation, Lopez is firmly entrenched as Baltimore's ace. Three of his four outings this year have been quality starts. With his effort on Thursday, Lopez (2-1) lowered his ERA to 1.91.
Lopez remembered that day 11 years ago when he shared a bullpen session with Clement. Prior to the game, Lopez asked who was pitching for the Red Sox. When told it was Clement, he responded, "Ah, my old friend."
Clement began his rapid ascent through the Padres' farm system soon after that session. Lopez was sent back to Mexico, then signed with the Padres a year later. Lopez did not forget that he was the less heralded of the two pitchers then. Clement had not forgotten that spring training day, either.
"I showed up in spring training that year and he . . . didn't know or speak a word of English," said Clement, who improved to 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA. "I had no clue. And nobody else knew what was going on. We kind of just started playing catch together. I always tried to go out of my way to make him feel comfortable. When you don't know the language [it's difficult]. If I was there, I'd be in the same boat. He's always been a great guy."