Viola's return to Fenway stirs up only sour notes

April 14, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- When last seen in Fenway Park, Frank Viola was answering to the nickname of "Sweet Music" and pitching

TC shutout for the Minnesota Twins. But that (a 10-0 win, June 23, 1989) was then, and this is now.

In between, Viola had a contract dispute and was traded to the New York Mets in a deal that helped the Twins solidify the pitching staff that earned them a World Series title last year -- and then left the Mets as a free agent after the 1991 season.

He came back to Fenway yesterday in the Red Sox's home opener, and the only tune playing sounded like an off-beat drum roll. In three-plus innings against Viola, the Orioles scored more runs and had as many hits as they had collected in any of their previous six games.

In Viola's words, his performance was ugly. He wasn't charged with the 8-6 loss because the Red Sox tied the score in the seventh inning, but that was of little consolation.

"One of the things I pride myself in is being able to make the adjustment and turn it around if things aren't going good," Viola said. "Today [yesterday] I wasn't able to do that. I didn't know which way to go. I kept thinking that I would get something working if I kept going, but it never happened."

Viola gave up eight hits and six runs before leaving with nobody out in the fourth inning -- right after the Red Sox had scored three times to get back into the game.

"I was behind in the count all the time, and that just isn't me," Viola said. He had been moved up in the rotation and pitched after three days of rest because of Boston's marathon, 19-inning win in Cleveland on Saturday, but said that had no effect.

"No, that wasn't it," he said. "I had no excuses. I just pitched up in the strike zone all day, and I can't do that. I can only put the blame on myself."

When someone asked if he sensed frustration by the Red Sox fans, who expect him to anchor the pitching staff behind Roger Clemens, Viola said: "They'll see a lot of good games," he said. "Trust me.

"You have to put it [the loss] in perspective," Viola said. "It's only one game. Opening Day is probably the biggest day of the year for the fans, so from that standpoint it's frustrating. But that wasn't me at my best."

In the Orioles clubhouse, shortstop Cal Ripken noticed a subtle difference since the last time he faced Viola, but doubted it was anything permanent. "He didn't throw as hard as he did when he was with the Twins," said Ripken, whose sacrifice fly drove in the game's first run.

"But that might have been only one day," Ripken said. "The next time out he'll probably be throwing as hard as he used to."

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