Red Sox 12, Orioles 2
There is a reason the Boston Red Sox use Tim Wakefield as their second starter behind Pedro Martinez, rather than a more conventional choice such as Derek Lowe. To a team that has just been traumatized by Martinez's laser-like fastballs the day before, the contrast of Wakefield's fluttering knuckleball is downright evil.
"When you start to swing, your eyes see where the ball is," said Baltimore Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine, "but when your bat gets there, it's gone."
Today, Wakefield at his best was more than the Orioles' collection of undermanned, overmatched hitters could handle, and the Red Sox romped to a 12-2 victory in the series finale in front of 30,046 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra doubled, tripled, homered and walked, and scored four runs.
The Orioles, who witnessed a rare dud from staff ace Rodrigo Lopez today, concluded their first homestand of the season with a 2-4 record, and hit the road for nine games beginning Tuesday night at Tampa Bay.
"This was the first really ugly game we've had," Manager Mike Hargrove said. "I think we have a competitive team. There's just parts of it that are not percolating right now. But we will."
The uglier aspects today included the beating absorbed by Lopez, who gave up nine hits and eight earned runs in 42/3 innings, largely because he could not overcome the disappearance of his best pitch, his slider; a futile afternoon for the offense against Wakefield, who allowed only four hits; and another pop fly in front of the mound that almost turned into a nightmare when Conine and catcher Brook Fordyce collided.
"We work on that stuff constantly in spring training," Hargrove said of the infield pop-up, which followed a similar pop that fell in on Friday. "So that kind of thing bothers me."
For once, the Red Sox gave their embattled bullpen-by-committee a lead they could not blow. They pounded out seven extra-base hits against Lopez (0-1), who seemed to throw everything down the middle and belt-high, then continued the beating against relievers Rick Bauer and Kerry Ligtenberg.
Lopez, who collected four of his 15 wins last season against the Red Sox, realized early in the game that his slider -- which scouts consider his best pitch -- was virtually unusable, since he could not keep it from hanging up in the strike zone. Unwilling to throw his change-up more than a few times, Lopez was forced to rely on his fastball, which the Red Sox quickly pounced on.
"Rodrigo's change-up is his third-best pitch," Hargrove said. "It's hard to get a guy to trust his change-up when his slider is his bread-and-butter."
"He didn't have his slider at all today," Fordyce said. "They just started sitting on his fastball."
Ideally, Lopez would have liked to have pitched around Garciaparra, who entered the game hitting .417 (5 for 12) against Lopez in his career, but the game situation mostly dictated that he pitch to him. Garciaparra doubled and tripled his first two times against Lopez, then walked in the fifth.
Garciaparra then homered off Bauer in the sixth. With a chance to hit for the cycle in the eighth, Garciaparra flied out to center against Ligtenberg.
Lopez, who will face the Red Sox again next weekend in Boston, probably would have been yanked from the game far sooner, except that the Orioles had a mini-bullpen crisis brewing, with Pat Hentgen, B.J. Ryan and Jorge Julio all needing rest, and Willis Roberts bothered by shoulder soreness.
"Usually with a pitcher who has the stuff Rodrigo has, the deeper they pitch, they find their stuff. Today was one of those days he didn't," Hargrove said. "But we had to push him as far as we could because we didn't have the bullpen to finish the game out."
It wouldn't have mattered when the Orioles took Lopez out, because they were helpless against Wakefield (1-0).
"Sitting on the bench or in the stands or in the press box, you wonder, 'How in the world can't you hit a ball that's being thrown 62 miles an hour?' " Hargrove said. "But I was a pretty decent hitter when I played, and a knuckleball was the only pitch I ever went to swing at where I wasn't sure I would at least foul it off. When it's doing it's work -- and was working for him today -- it's a tough pitch to catch, let alone hit."
Orioles Notes: Orioles rookie shortstop Jose Morban, whom the Orioles must keep on their active roster or else give him up, made his major league debut today, playing two innings in the field and reaching base on a fielder's choice in the ninth. The Orioles do not plan to give him significant playing time this season. . . .
Hargrove said Roberts is expected to be available Tuesday for the beginning of the series at Tampa Bay, as is left fielder Marty Cordova (herniated disk in back).