BOSTON -- The Baltimore Orioles put their team-wide turnaround to the ultimate test yesterday, sending journeyman right-hander Roy Smith to face the first-place Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Oh, and there was one other thing. Roger Clemens was pitching for Boston.
This is what is commonly known as a mismatch. Clemens is the most overpowering pitcher on the planet. Smith throws the ball at a variety of speeds, none of them particularly fast.
But nothing ever is quite certain in baseball, which is the only way to explain how Smith befuddled the Red Sox for seven innings and defeated Clemens, 5-1, to give the Orioles their third victory in the four-game series.
Smith gave up just four hits to win for the second time since entering the rotation a week ago. He threw just 78 pitches -- 55 of them strikes -- and retired the Red Sox in order in five of the seven innings he completed.
He left with a runner on base in the eighth, but reliever Mark Williamson came on to get the last six outs in short order and record his second save of the year.
Two textbook performances as far as manager John Oates was concerned. Smith didn't walk a batter. He went to a three-ball count only twice. Williamson pitched to only five batters, getting a double play to get out of the eighth inning before ending the game on three pop-ups in the ninth.
"Throw strikes and take your chances," Oates said. "They're going to make an out seven out of 10 times."
Clemens pitched a solid eight innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on eight hits on the way to his third loss in 10 decisions. He didn't have much room for error, and an error by right fielder Tom Brunansky cost him an important run in the second inning.
Matched against former teammate Dwight Evans for the first time in regular-season play, Clemens gave up a slicing RBI triple into the right-field corner that Brunansky played into a second run.
The ball slipped by Brunansky along the wall, allowing Evans to ** make a big turn at third, and the relay throw went over the head of second baseman Jody Reed, allowing Evans to race home. Brunansky was charged with an error on the throw, but he probably should have gotten one on the play in the corner.
No matter. Evans got credit for a triple instead of a double, and the largest Fenway crowd of the year (34,305) gave him another in the series of ovations that marked his homecoming weekend.
Clemens also gave up an eighth-inning RBI single to Cal Ripken, which padded the slim lead that Smith had protected all afternoon. The Orioles put the game away in the ninth, when Sam Horn and Randy Milligan hit back-to-back bases-empty home runs off Jeff Reardon.
The Orioles won three of four at Fenway for the first time since September 1983, the season of their last World Series championship. No sense drawing comparisons at this point, but the club has a lot more to look forward to now than it did just a week ago.
Oates continues to play it low-key, but he said the weekend in Boston was a positive experience at a pivotal time.
"Definitely so," he said. "Our recent history has not been very good in this ballpark, but guys are starting to believe in themselves and they are starting to have some fun.
"We got three great starts here, and the bullpen did not give up a run."
Smith handed Oates his first victory on Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium, pitching a strong 6 2/3 innings to defeat the Cleveland Indians. He retired the first nine batters he faced yesterday before giving up two hits and his only run in the fourth inning.
He picked a perfect time for another big performance, but he said the matchup against Clemens did not weigh heavily on his mind.
"I think anybody who thinks about who he's pitching against is stupid," Smith said. "You can't do anything about the other guy and he can't do anything about you, unless somebody comes up with a Babe Ruth-type who is pitching and batting cleanup.
"I'm not taking anything away from Clemens. I know who he is and what he's done, but I can't worry about what he does."
Clemens is one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball, but he has not succeeded in overpowering the Orioles of late. He lost his only decision against them last year, lasting only 1 2/3 innings in his shortest appearance of the season.
"I can't explain it," Oates said, "but the last three years, against the guys who really throw hard like Clemens and Nolan Ryan, we've had some success."
The Orioles have put together a string of nine games in which their starting pitcher has lasted at least five innings, a dramatic turnabout by any measure. But Oates refused to express surprise.
"I'm not saying that I expected our pitchers to turn it around the way they have," he said, "but I have confidence in the players on this team. I knew we weren't going to play that way all year, no matter who was manager. We might not be a club that can win 115 games, but we've got too much talent to be a .330 ballclub."
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