The Boston Red Sox were unmasked over the weekend. They were running away from the pack in the American League East when a sudden bullpen collapse left them at the mercy of the most explosive team in baseball.
Here's the final tally: In three games, Red Sox relievers gave up 18 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings (15.19 ERA). The Cleveland Indians came from behind in all three games -- scoring a total of 17 runs in the eighth and ninth innings -- to sweep three games.
No one expected them to feature a dominant pitching staff this year, but the Red Sox had won 14 of their first 19 games even as pitching ace Roger Clemens remained on the shelf with a shoulder problem.
Don't expect them to get any sympathy in Baltimore. The Orioles bullpen has righted itself, but the starting rotation has gone sour, so the Orioles will need all the outside help they can get to stay close until they can iron out their own pitching problems.
For a few hours yesterday, former Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore was leading the American League in hitting, but a big performance by Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga vaulted him into the lead by the end of the day. Nevertheless, McLemore ended the week batting .395, which isn't bad for a guy who can't hold a job. . . . Keep those Kirby Puckett-to-the-Orioles rumors coming. Puckett not only misses all of the good friends who have left the Minnesota Twins the past few years, but he also misses their bats in the lineup. He's batting a surprisingly meager .242, partly because opposing pitchers have no reason to give him anything to hit and partly because of the shortened spring training. "We always talked about how he needs 75-85 at-bats in spring," manager Tom Kelly said. "He's just behind. We expect him to slow down, but this drastic drop-off isn't right."
Mark McGwire has landed on his feet again, even if one of them is going to pain him for the rest of his career. He created another splash yesterday, when he homered into the fountain at Kauffman Stadium and extended his hitting streak to 18 games. He's batting .329 with 10 home runs and a league-leading 29 RBIs. And more importantly, he has helped the A's win eight of their past 11 to climb two games over .500 for the first time since April 17, 1994. . . . Former Orioles closer Lee Smith isn't talking any trash, even though he has reeled off a league-leading 10 saves while the Orioles have struggled to pull their bullpen together. "If a guy [Peter Angelos] wants to go a different way with his money, you can't be hootin' on him," Smith told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week. "If I was doing that, I'd be having a [laugh] about everybody in the game, wouldn't I? I've been written off for about eight years."
The Philadelphia Phillies continue to march on, winning four of six games against the Florida Marlins and New York Mets last week. The club is getting big contributions from the smallest names on the roster. Last week, it was Mickey Morandini, whose 8-for-12 performance in the past four games included two home runs and six RBIs. . . . Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice revealed last week that he wears a nipple ring, which -- for anyone who wasn't in the infield at the Preakness on Saturday -- is a small earring that is attached to the chest through a hole in the skin. Earth to David: That was just a little more information than we were looking for.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been used as one of the prime examples of the disadvantages faced by small-market teams, but they are taking the concept to a new level. With last night's win, the Pirates have a 5-3 record in their large-market visits (Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles) and a 4-11 mark in small-market cities -- including their major-league-worst 1-7 record in Pittsburgh. . . . By the way, isn't that former Oriole catcher Mark Parent who's batting .306 with four home runs and 10 RBIs for the Pirates? . . . Major-League Team of the Week: All hail the mighty Cubs, who went 5-1 last week against the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
What has gone wrong in Los Angeles? The Dodgers were supposed to be slump-proof with their solid, young starting rotation, but they were swept by the Cubs over the weekend and have lost six in a row to drop into the NL West cellar. They couldn't even get a win the night that Hideo Nomo struck out 14 batters. It's not the offense. The Dodgers entered the weekend ranked third in the league in hitting. . . . Don't give up on Buster Olney's NL West favorite just yet. The Padres have taken advantage of the Dodgers' dive to climb out of the cellar, finishing the week 4-2 even with last night's loss.