BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox took one where it hurts the most last night -- in the loss column.
This wasn't one of those lucky punches, rather a resounding 9-2 beating administered by the Orioles that was every bit as lopsided as it sounded.
A four-home run barrage, initiated by Mike Devereaux and punctuated by Randy Milligan, did in the Red Sox, who saw four pitchers give up 16 hits.
While playing down their role as a potential spoiler, the Orioles could not deny that the electricity in Fenway Park gave them a charge.
"It's always nice this time of the year to play in front of a full house," said Milligan, who hit his 15th and 16th home runs of the year. "It elevates your game."
Even manager John Oates admitted that the atmosphere, not just the standings, has an effect. "It does make a difference," he said.
"The club you're playing doesn't make a difference, but the park does. It has nothing to do with playing the Red Sox, or being a spoiler, but playing in front of a full house does make a difference."
Not that the Orioles aren't used to playing before big audiences. "I don't want the people in Baltimore to take this the wrong way," said Milligan. "We draw nice crowds -- but the park isn't full and these games don't mean as much back home as they do here."
These games certainly don't mean as much to the Orioles as they do to the Red Sox, but you would have a hard time convincing Oates. "We're just trying to win as many games as we can," he said for the umpteenth time.
It's called a search for respectability, and last night the Orioles went hunting with booming bats. "They came out swinging the bats," said Boston manager Joe Morgan. "Even their outs were hit a long way.
"And their pitcher [Mike Mussina] was excellent. He threw 90-plus mph, had a hard curve and a good changeup. He should win a lot of games.
"I just wish," Morgan said somewhat ruefully, "I could've seen what he looked like if the game was a little closer."
After two innings of sparring, the Orioles put this one away early. A pair of two-run homers by Devereaux and Milligan made it 4-0 after three innings. Chris Hoiles made it 5-0 in the fourth, the Orioles scored three more in the fifth and Milligan added a second homer in the seventh.
It was an impressive barrage against a team that had lost only twice in its previous 12 games and was hoping to close ground on the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays, who lost their second straight game last night but remained 3 1/2 games ahead of
With 12 of their last 19 games at home, while the Blue Jays faced 12 of 18 on the road, the Red Sox were banking on the schedule as an ally when they returned to Fenway Park last night. They were both optimistic and cautious.
"The schedule works for us and we're playing the East while they're playing the West," said second baseman Jody Reed. "Maybe that's going to make it up, but they're still spotted three games in the loss column and we have to make those up."
The Red Sox had gone 27-9, including a four-game sweep in Toronto, to put themselves in a position to make a run at Toronto, and they realize they'll have to continue that run to stay in the race. "We'll probably have to play .800 ball to win," said reliever Jeff Reardon.
He's probably right, and left unsaid is the fact that the Red Sox will have to play a lot better than they did last night to get any consideration at all. Much has been made of the fact that Boston finishes against four Eastern Division teams -- the Orioles, Brewers, Yankees and Tigers.
As for the Orioles, they have a more realistic chance of accomplishing a much more modest goal. Their win last night, coupled with the Yankees' loss to Milwaukee, left them just a half-game out of fifth place.
Reaching that plateau would hardly rank as an accomplishment, especially in view of the high preseason expectations. But after spending virtually the entire season in either sixth or seventh place, with not much room or hope for improvement, another notch in the standings would provide a degree of satisfaction.