Full of life instead of dread, confident instead of gun-shy, consistently effective instead of mysteriously uneven, Scott Kamieniecki has come to symbolize the transformation that has taken place within the Baltimore Orioles in the second half of this season, which continued tonight with a 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 32,930 at Fenway Park.
Four months ago, Kamieniecki was a struggling starting pitcher, and the Orioles were in last place. Tonight, Kamieniecki strutted to the mound from the bullpen to deliver two key innings of relief, and the Orioles won for the 15th time in their last 16 games.
"Kammy has had a complete transformation in personality since he went to the bullpen," Manager Ray Miller said. "He was struggling, and he was pessimistic and down about himself. Now he's the life of the clubhouse, and he feels he belongs there. . . . He's been very resilient."
The same could be said about the Orioles (76-77), who moved within one game of .500 for the first time since a win on April 10 lifted them to 2-3. With a 40-26 record since the all-star break, the Orioles have gone from 10th in the American League in pitching to fourth.
"Nobody knows it but us," Miller said, "but we've been playing some pretty good baseball."
Tonight, Orioles starter Mike Mussina (17-7) outdueled Bret Saberhagen (10-6) in a matchup of two of baseball's premier marksmen, accentuated by the liberal strike zone of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck, who rung up 10 batters on called third strikes.
Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless ninth for his sixth straight save, 18th in his last 19 chances and 27th overall this season, helped in that effort by a major base-running blunder by Red Sox pinch runner Donnie Sadler, who made an ill-advised dash from second to third on Nomar Garciaparra's groundball to Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick, who easily threw out Sandler at third.
"That's a tough place for a kid," Miller said of Sadler, who had just been sent in to run after Jason Varitek doubled off the Green Monster.
The Orioles scored their only run of the game off Saberhagen in the fourth, when designated hitter Derrick May, who is hitting .462 (6 for 13) this season with runners in scoring position, singled home B.J. Surhoff, who doubled to right to lead off the inning.
For Surhoff, the double marked his 200th hit this season, the first time in his career he has passed that benchmark standard for consistency. Surhoff, having a career year and his first all-star season at age 35, earlier this season passed the 100-RBI, 25-homer and 600 at-bat thresholds for the first time in his career.
Mussina, pitching for just the third time since a line drive off his shoulder on Aug. 22 caused him to miss three weeks, had eight strikeouts in six innings. But his arm felt tired enough that he mentioned it to Miller, and Miller turned to Kamieniecki.
In the game's biggest at-bat, with the potential tying run at third with two outs in the eighth, Kamieniecki won a protracted duel with Red Sox pinch hitter Brian Daubach, getting Daubach to chase a breaking ball -- with a failed checked swing -- after Daubach had fouled off five consecutive 1-2 pitches.
Having survived a neck operation in 1998, two stints on the disabled list this season and two atrocious starts in May, with only his pricey contract keeping him from getting released, Kamieniecki has reinvented himself as a reliever. Tonight marked his seventh straight scoreless appearance, 24th in his last 29.
"It shows," Kamieniecki said of his new resolve. "My velocity's back. The movement is there. You can talk all you want about being able to do it, but ultimately you have to show people."
Orioles Notes: Miller said today that he is leaning toward not starting rookie left-hander Matt Riley any more this season after Riley mentioned a sore back following his start Thursday night, which featured seven walks in 4 2/3 innings. It was Riley's second major league start.
"He felt something in his back yesterday, and he's walked 11 [in two starts] and his velocity is down," Miller said. "We've accomplished what we want [with him]. We wanted him to see the big leagues. When he comes to spring training [next year] he'll have a better idea of what this is about."
Data: Orioles at Boston Red Sox.
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Site: Fenway Park.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
This Season: Baltimore is 4-2 against Boston, and has outscored the Red Sox 18-13.