Mark Portugal baffled the Baltimore Orioles with an assortment of batting practice fastballs and offspeed stuff for seven innings. He didn't throw a single 90 mph pitch, but by changing speeds and moving the ball around, he didn't have to.
When Portugal was done, the Boston Red Sox turned to left-hander Rheal Cormier for two outs in the eighth. And then they finished with Tim Wakefield throwing 68 mph knuckleballs for the final four outs of Boston's 2-1 victory over the Orioles in front of 47,388 tonight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
This is not how the Orioles (32-39) expected to lose for only the third time in 14 games. Not against a starter who hadn't won since May 9. And certainly not with their own ace, Mike Mussina, at the top of his game.
"Obviously, this is a tough one to take," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "You have to tip your hat to them and feel bad for Mike. He pitched great. He has pitched great all year."
Mussina (9-4) lost despite pitching his third complete game. He allowed seven hits, walked none and struck out 10. He lost because Troy O'Leary hit his 16th home run in the second inning, because the Red Sox strung together a pair of hits in the fifth and because his teammates went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
"I'm not going to second-guess myself on a game I'd win nine out of 10 times," Mussina said. "The other group pitched better, and they got the big hit when they needed it. We didn't."
What turned out to be the winning runs scored with two outs in the fifth when Lou Merloni singled and came home on Darren Lewis's triple into the right field corner. Albert Belle chased down the ball after it had bounced around, then relayed the ball to second baseman Jeff Reboulet, whose throw to the plate was a second late.
That was it for the Red Sox (42-30), who didn't get a runner into scoring position the final four innings. Still, they left Camden Yards having won two of three and staying a game behind the New York Yankees in the American League East.
Portugal (4-6) won for the first time in six weeks by going seven innings and allowing only Belle's 15th home run in the second. The Orioles had several other chances, but left runners on second or third in the second, third and sixth innings.
On a few occasions, they hit balls hard. One of those times came in the sixth when they had runners at first and third with one out, and Will Clark's hard grounder was turned into an inning-ending double play by Boston second baseman Jose Offerman.
The Red Sox also made some plays, including a pair of nice ones by Lewis. With two runners on base and one out in the second, he made a nice catch of Reboulet's liner. He made an even better play in the ninth by banging against the wall to catch Clark's drive against Wakefield.
"In that situation, I was just trying to get a good jump on the ball," Lewis said of his catch in the ninth. "It hit the heel of my glove a little bit, but I just hung on."
Portugal had gone six starts without a victory. He had gotten losses in four of those six, including a seven-inning, two-run effort against the Texas Rangers last weekend. This time, he was even better, spotting his fastball on both corners and tossing a variety of breaking pitches and change-ups.
Portugal allowed two hits apiece to Belle and Mike Bordick, but he allowed almost nothing to the bottom of the order. The seventh, eighth and ninth hitters were 0 for 10.
"Portugal changed speeds and hit his spots," Clark said. "He didn't fall into any particular pattern. We hit some balls hard. Pretty much everyone in the lineup got solid wood on the ball. We just couldn't bunch anything together."
For Mussina, it was his second 2-1 loss of the season and came when the Orioles finally had made a move toward being the team they were supposed to be. Once more, they were derailed and face another difficult task when the Yankees arrive at Camden Yards on Friday for the start of a three-game series.
"We've put ourselves in such a hole that every loss is tough," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "It's really tough to see Mike go out and battle like that, and not get a win."
Portugal said he knew he had sharp because he was pitching against Mussina. "I made one bad pitch to Albert Belle that he hit over the fence," he said. "Mike's always on his game. He's got nasty stuff. You know when you're going against a guy like that, you can't give up too many runs. We came in here against the hottest team in baseball and won the series, so we've got to be happy about that."
Data: vs. New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, tonight at 7:35 p.m.; Saturday at 1:15 p.m.; Sunday at 1:35 p.m.
Tickets: Scattered singles for each of the games.
TV: WBDC-50 and WJZ-13 (tonight and Sunday); WTTG-5, WBFF-45 (Saturday).
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090. WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 32-39. Yankees 42-28.
Pitchers: Today -- Scott Erickson (3-8, 6.38 ERA) vs. Hideki Irabu (4-3, 4.52); Saturday -- Jason Johnson (1-1, 8.25) vs. David Cone (7-3, 2.73); Sunday -- Sidney Ponson (7-4, 3.68) vs. Orlando Hernandez (8-6, 4.02).
CAPTION: Jeff Reboulet tags out Red Sox' Brian Daubach, who tried for a ninth-inning double. Mike Mussina struck out 10.
CAPTION: Albert Belle homers, providing the Orioles with their only run in 2-1 loss to the Red Sox. Story on Page D6.
CAPTION: Mike Mussina delivers for Orioles, allowing just two runs on seven hits in complete-game effort. He struck out 10 and walked none but fell to 9-4.