BOSTON -- Red Sox fans had a surprise for Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken last night, warm and generous applause that lasted nearly a minute.
The Orioles had a surprise for the Red Sox, too: lousy pitching.
Boston feasted in this alleged pennant race, hitting four homers en route to an 11-1 victory. John Valentin hit two, becoming the first Red Sox shortstop to hit 20 in a season since Rico Petrocelli banged 29 in 1970, and Jose Canseco and Mike Macfarlane hit bases-empty shots.
Boston starter Rheal Cormier (5-2) pitched eight innings to beat Scott Erickson (7-9), and the Orioles are 11 games behind the first-place Red Sox now; it would take a major turnaround for the O's to catch Boston now.
"Well, I wish I had something brilliant to say," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "But we were lousy in every single phase of the game. . . . We were kind of going through the motions tonight, and I don't know why."
Perhaps they were lulled into thinking that Fenway Park was a friendly place, after Ripken's first at-bat. As he was introduced in the second inning, cheers rippled throughout Fenway Park, growing louder and louder, and fans began to rise with the cheers. A standing ovation. Ripken looked back at catcher Mike Macfarlane and said, "What am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know," Macfarlane responded.
Ripken then stepped out of the batter's box and waved his right arm, acknowledging the applause. He has been applauded in ballparks around the country this year, but nothing like this. In Fenway Park, home to the rival Red Sox. Ripken stepped back in to bat against Cormier, popped to short on the first pitch, and as he jogged off the field, there were more cheers.
"I didn't know how to act," Ripken said. "I felt a little embarrassed by holding up the game. . . . It made me feel really good."
The warm and fuzzy feelings ended, however, when the Red Sox batted in the second inning, and the beating commenced.
Erickson started for the Orioles with an extra day's rest, bumped back when Jamie Moyer pitched on three days' rest against the Yankees Wednesday. Moyer was anything but weak, pitching into the ninth inning against New York, and Erickson was anything but strong.
The Red Sox scored three runs in the second inning. Jose Canseco, hurting from a second-inning slide home, walked slowly to the plate to lead off the third inning. He couldn't run much, but he could still take his trademark hack. Erickson threw Canseco a high fastball. Canseco blasted it. As soon as he uncoiled from his swing, Canseco stood and watched the ball fly over the Green Monster, high over the net.
He couldn't see, from where he stood, that his hit would land on a parking garage on the other side of Lansdowne Street, the road that runs behind the wall. Official distance: 420 feet, a figure that many in the press box disputed.
The Red Sox scored once more in that inning, and three batters into the fourth, Erickson was gone. In his previous start, against Milwaukee last Friday, Erickson was relieved by Arthur Rhodes before he registered an out in the fourth inning. He gave up seven hits, four walks and six runs. Awful, his first terrible outing since being traded to the Orioles in early July. An aberration.
Or maybe not. Erickson repeated that performance last night, his final line virtually identical to his line against the Brewers: Three and one-third innings, eight hits, three walks and five runs. Rhodes relieved him, pitching for the first time since he relieved him in the fourth inning last week.
Regan said Erickson just didn't have much sink to his sinking fastball. But Erickson thought the basic problem was pitch selection, saying that he and catcher Chris Hoiles should've shown the Red Sox a greater variety of pitches.
"It's tough to go out there and pitch with one pitch," he said. "I threw all fastballs.
"I felt great warming up. I brought three good pitches into the game."
Erickson was asked about the home run hit by Canseco.
"When you go up there and look for one pitch, it's not that hard to hit it," Erickson said. "I threw a two-strike fastball to Canseco, and he did with it what he should've. I failed to throw my other pitches. Between Hoiles and myself, we just didn't call them. . . . I've got to take the blame because I threw the ball."
Hoiles wouldn't directly address Erickson's criticism of the pitch selection, saying he wanted to talk to Erickson first. "We did throw them a lot of fastballs," Hoiles said, who indicated that Erickson rarely shook off his signs. "We got beat pretty bad. Maybe it was just out of frustration on his part. He never said anything to me about it. . . . As far as what he has to say, that's his thing."
Pitching coach Mike Flanagan said that he thought Erickson's pitches began to flatten out when he threw from the stretch, and he and Erickson would work on this between starts.
The pitch selection? "You don't have to throw nothing but fastballs, either," Flanagan said. "You have the right to throw whatever you want."