BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox fans are beginning to believe again, and why not? A late-season surge has put the American League East title within reach, and a favorable schedule down the stretch has made it seem even more reachable.
But the Baltimore Orioles did not get caught up in this sudden wave of pennant fever. They just got a bunch of balls caught up in the screen above the left-field fence on the way to a resounding 9-2 victory over the Red Sox last night at Fenway Park.
Designated hitter Randy Milligan cleared the Green Monster twice to lead a four-homer performance that carried rookie Mike Mussina to his fourth victory of the year.
Mussina scattered 10 hits and pitched his first major-league complete game, his task made much easier by a 16-hit attack that turned into a reality check for the Red Sox pitching staff. Some other highlights:
* Mike Devereaux hit his 19th homer of the year to begin the offensive assault.
* Chris Hoiles had three hits, including his 10th home run, to raise his average to .257.
* Cal Ripken also had three hits to raise his average to .323.
* The only Orioles starter without a hit was Dwight Evans, who also was the only Orioles player to receive a standing ovation.
"That lineup we put out there tonight can swing the bat pretty well," manager John Oates said. "When they're right, it's not a bad offensive ballclub. We've hit our share of the long ball lately."
Mussina (4-4) could have gotten by on a lot less offensive support, but there isn't anything wrong with spending a game in the comfort zone. Twice this year, he has given up two runs or fewer and come away with a loss and a no-decision.
"Fortunately, I was able to spread the hits out and keep the ball in the ballpark," said Mussina, who was seeing Fenway Park up close for the first time.
He obviously was not intimidated by the cozy dimensions or the craziness in the stands. He pitched with runners on base in every inning but the second and eighth, but gave up only an RBI single to Carlos Quintana in the fourth and a run-scoring hit to Mike Greenwell in the sixth.
"By the time I got out there, it wasn't a big deal," Mussina said. "I had already been out there during batting practice. I tried to get acclimated. Everywhere we go is new to me. If you're worried about the park, you're worrying about the wrong things."
The Orioles once worried that Mussina might not be ready for prime time, but he has pitched into the sixth inning or later in eight of his nine major-league starts.
His second-half performance is reminiscent of the promising entrance that Ben McDonald made last year, but McDonald has been unable to build on his auspicious start because of a series of elbow and shoulder problems.
Meanwhile, Mussina has advanced to the point where some people in the Orioles organization feel that he is further along in his development than McDonald.
"One guy's on the mound and the other guy's staying hurt," Oates said. "Ben isn't getting hurt on purpose, but it's hard to grow when you're not able to go out there."
Mussina's first impression of Fenway Park couldn't have been very pleasant. Perennial batting champion Wade Boggs led off the Red Sox's half of the first inning with a line drive off the Green Monster in left, but the situation improved steadily after that.
"I really thought that I had that pitch by him," Mussina said. "It wasn't exactly where I wanted it, but I thought it was a good enough fastball that he would only foul it off. But he's a great hitter. His specialty is hitting the ball off that wall, and that's what he did. It just made me focus harder right from the start."
The Red Sox hit the ball hard a couple of more times in the first inning, but came up empty. Mussina settled down to get three straight ground ball outs in the second and the Orioles staked him to a big lead in the third.
Devereaux delivered the first in a series of big swings, sending a towering fly ball into the Baltimore bullpen with Luis Mercedes aboard for his 19th home run of the season. Milligan also went deep, driving a two-run shot into the screen above the Monster.
Red Sox starter Tom Bolton was hoping to bring an end to a lengthy run of bad luck, but it just got worse. He came into the game 0-3 with a 10.29 ERA in his four previous starts, but this was his first start since going on the disabled list July 27 with shoulder and back soreness. He had pitched only in relief since returning to active duty.
There's an excellent chance he will be back in the bullpen after lasting just three innings and giving up a pair of bombs last night.
Devereaux has emerged this year as a bona fide home run threat and has driven in 55 runs almost entirely out of the leadoff spot. If he should hit another home run this year, it would be the first season since 1987 that the Orioles have had three players with 20 homers or more. Cal Ripken has 29. Sam Horn has 21. Four players hit at least 20 in 1987 -- Ripken, Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn and Larry Sheets.
Orioles-Red Sox scoring