By the end of September, arms, legs and even minds can grow weary. But in a wild game today that featured four errors, eight unearned runs, two runs that came on wild pitches and one embarrassing aborted pitching change, the wait-till-next-year Baltimore Orioles beat the playoff-bound Boston Red Sox with a youthful look.
The Orioles' 8-5 victory in front of 32,115 at Fenway Park was their 16th in 18 games. But at a time when a rookie's progress or a young pitcher's first taste of success are more important than wins and losses, the Orioles (77-78) took good news and bad news out of today's game.
Second-year pitcher Jason Johnson (8-7) won his fifth straight start, tying a career high with seven strikeouts. He moved past the .500 mark for the first time in his career and further solidified a spot in next year's rotation. Rookie lefty B.J. Ryan pitched a perfect eighth, his ninth scoreless outing in 10 appearances for the Orioles.
A lineup loaded with four rookies helped knock out knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (6-11) in the fifth inning. Calvin Pickering delivered what may have been the game's biggest hit, a two-run single with two outs in the fifth.
Even though Wakefield allowed a two-run homer to Albert Belle in the fourth, Belle's 37th, all seven runs charged to him were unearned because of errors by shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, third baseman John Valentin and second baseman Jose Offerman.
But not all the Red Sox' errors occurred on the field. Manager Jimy Williams brought reliever Tom Gordon in from the bullpen, only to receive a hasty phone call in the dugout tunnel from General Manager Dan Duquette, telling him that Gordon had not been activated from the disabled list. Williams had to go back to the mound, remove Gordon -- who had not yet thrown a pitch -- and bring in John Wasdin.
"I was under the understanding that he was to be activated," Williams said. "I didn't double-check, so it was my fault."
With the Orioles' final 14 games against teams in playoff contention, Manager Ray Miller has had to balance his desire to play youngsters against his responsibility to field a representative team in games that can affect playoff races.
With a lineup today that featured two fringe prospects (first baseman Calvin Pickering and third baseman Ryan Minor), a utility-infield prospect (second baseman Jesse Garcia) and a raw but talented center field prospect (Eugene Kingsale), Miller appeared to have upset that balance. That foursome went 1 for 15, with Pickering's two-run single being the only hit. Pickering also made an error.
Still, despite (or perhaps because of) extensive playing time for a half-dozen rookies, the Orioles have surged to a 19-5 record in September and a 41-27 record since the all-star break, causing some Orioles veterans to reflect on what might have been this season.
This victory "won't make up for anything," Miller said, "but I don't manage thinking about the past or the future. Whether we're in first place or last place, I try to do the best I can and hopefully everyone else does, too."
"Our timing is just bad," said left-hander Jesse Orosco, 42, who entered with the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth and struck out Troy O'Leary to end the game and earn his first save of the season. "I wish it could be July or August right now. We're a pretty good ballclub. It just took us too long to get going."
Orioles Note: Outfielder Brady Anderson, playing today as designated hitter, left the game in the top of the seventh with a slight strain of his right quadriceps. Earlier, Anderson set a club record by being hit by a pitch for the 23rd time this season.