Orioles 9, Red Sox 7
The Baltimore Orioles ended their road schedule Thursday night at a place they were warming to almost as if it were their own home. At Fenway Park, these Orioles have savored every bit of the cozy playoff atmosphere, the fans loudly ringing in their ears, the nerves jingling with each at-bat. Fenway can turn many a road team into a nervous wreck; the Orioles, however, seemed sad to leave.
Thursday's 9-7 win over playoff-eager Boston ended a series of four tight games, two of which ended with the Red Sox winning on their final swing. Thursday, with two runners on against B.J. Ryan, that final swing produced a deep fly ball off the bat of David Ortiz that died in the glove of right fielder David Newhan, a few feet from the warning track.
"It seemed every game came to the last out," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "It seemed like both sides had a chance to win each game."
Boston, a team shaken by two lopsided losses in New York, was practically blindsided by the Orioles this week. Baltimore showed itself to be more than just an appetizer before the final Yankee-Red Sox series of the year. The Orioles came back against Boston closer Keith Foulke twice and homered against him three times. They pounded starters Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield, putting in doubt the pairs' spot in the Boston postseason rotation. And they did it in a hostile environment.
"These four games were a really good learning experience for the future," Mazzilli said. "For me, they came through with flying colors."
Mazzilli, in managing with extreme precision, had taken a beating from critics during the first three games of the series. Thursday, he made all the right moves.
With men on second and third in the fifth and two outs, Mazzilli used reliever John Parrish, who struck out Jason Varitek and struck out the side in the sixth. Mazzilli then removed Parrish in the seventh when Gabe Kapler pinch-hit for Dave Roberts. Todd Williams retired the side in order.
In the eighth, he used Jose Leon to pinch-hit for Jay Gibbons with the bases loaded. Leon delivered a go-ahead two-run single. Mazzilli then sent Buddy Groom to face Ortiz to start the eighth. Groom struck out the Boston slugger. Then Jorge Julio was brought in to face the final two batters of the inning. The deposed closer forced a groundout and then struck out Varitek.
The easiest choice proved to almost be the worst. Ryan, in his new closer role, was brought into the ninth inning with a four-run lead but surrendered two runs. Only two insurance runs in the ninth inning against Byung Hyun Kim saved Baltimore from a third consecutive heartbreaking loss.
Mazzilli's bullpen pitched four shutout innings before Ryan allowed the two runs.
"You saw the whole series the last out wasn't going to come easily," Ryan said. Ryan knew he had recorded the final out as soon as he heard the crack of the bat from Ortiz.
"He's a big strong guy, but I thought I got it in on him."
The bullpen cleaned up a fine mess from Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, who always finds trouble when his control disappears. That happened in the fifth, when he walked in a run before yielding a two-run double to Kevin Millar to tie the game at 5. That only set the stage for the late-inning drama.
"The games here have been really intense great games," Williams said. "It's great for us to be involved."
Orioles Notes: Rafael Palmeiro, who has been kept out of the starting lineup the past three days because of a sore right hamstring, will likely return to lineup this weekend against the Tigers . . . Brian Roberts broke the Orioles' single-season doubles record with his 48th of the year in the first . . . Miguel Tejada's three RBI gave him a new career high of 134. . . .
Larry Bigbie's agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, have been approached by producers of the show "The Bachelor" to see if the outfielder would be interested in being the next reality TV star. Last season, New York Giants quarterback Jessie Palmer was the star of the show, which allows a bachelor to pick his future wife from a group of contestants. Bigbie said he told his agents to get more information though he's not sure if he'd like to be prominently featured on television.
"That's not really me," Bigbie said. "When it comes down to it, I don't think I'll do it."