No Nomo: Lowe close in 2-hit win

Red Sox starter nearly repeats early 2001 gem in Orioles' 3-0 defeat

Batista gets 1st hit in 8th

Orioles have only 1 run since outburst in Opening Day win

April 06, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It had to be small consolation for the struggling Orioles lineup, but the Boston Red Sox did not get to celebrate another no-hitter at Camden Yards last night.

Converted reliever Derek Lowe came close to duplicating the feat that Hideo Nomo pulled off here almost a year ago to the day, but the Red Sox had to settle for a combined 3-0 shutout in the opener of a three-game series at Oriole Park.

There were so many similarities that it seemed almost preordained when Lowe entered the eighth inning without surrendering a hit. Nomo had no-hit the Orioles in the second game of the season-opening series. Last night's game, thanks to bad weather in Boston, was the Red Sox's second of the season.

Nomo defeated the Orioles, 3-0, on April 4 of last year, the same score that Lowe was protecting with six outs to go in last night's game. Neither was high on anybody's list of pitchers likely to throw a no-hit game.

The Orioles did not cooperate this time. Tony Batista beat out a slow roller up the third base line to break up the no-hitter and Lowe shared an eventual two-hit shutout with relievers Rich Garces and Ugueth Urbina.

"Mentally, I felt like I was going to do it," Lowe said. "That's the most disappointing hit you can give up. In a perfect world, you'd like to give up a line-drive hit."

No one expected the Orioles to be a particularly explosive team this year, but they opened the season with an uplifting 10-run performance against Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees. If only they could have followed that up with anything but complete offensive futility, it might have been a positive first week.

No such luck. They have scored one run since then ... one run on 12 hits over the 27 innings since the applause stopped on Opening Day.

"I guess that qualifies as an offensive funk ... but we've been in every ballgame," manager Mike Hargrove said. "We're all right. We just have to start swinging the bat."

The Orioles entered yesterday as a team of extremes. Their 2.33 team ERA ranked first in the American League and their .200 combined batting average ranked 14th among the 14 AL teams, so it certainly wasn't out of character for them to find themselves on the wrong end of another pitching duel - even one that didn't look like much of a duel at the outset.

The No. 4 starter, Josh Towers, did not follow the lead of young rotation mates Jason Johnson and Sidney Ponson, both of whom worked through the early innings without giving up a run to the Yankees. Outfielder Johnny Damon, the first batter to step to the plate against Towers, deposited a fly ball over the scoreboard in right field for his first regular-season home run in a Red Sox uniform.

One out later, Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra proved his sore wrist is no longer a problem with his first homer, which appeared to signal a long night for Towers - or else a very short one.

But the 25-year-old right-hander steadied himself quickly and transformed a rocky beginning into a decent 2002 debut. He allowed an RBI single to Garciaparra in the fifth and left after six innings with a quality start to his credit. Six innings, three runs, eight hits.

"He threw a high changeup to Damon and hung a slider to Garciaparra, then he settled down and pitched very well," Hargrove said. "We're just not scoring any runs."

Towers' performance certainly could have been better, but it probably wouldn't have made much difference. Lowe, the former Red Sox closer who was moved into the rotation when the club acquired Urbina from Montreal last year, moved so efficiently through the Orioles' lineup that it didn't take long for him to evoke the memory of Nomo's no-no a year and a day earlier.

"We talked [before the game] about their first three games against New York," Lowe said. "They were very aggressive and we tried to take advantage of that."

Lowe was perfect through four innings. He finally allowed a runner in the fifth when Jeff Conine led off with a ground ball to third and Shea Hillenbrand's throw pulled Tony Clark off first base.

The Orioles threatened to get on the scoreboard without a hit in the sixth when Lowe walked the first two batters, but Mike Bordick fouled out and Jerry Hairston hit into a double play to keep the shutout and the no-hitter alive.

There was a point in the seventh inning when it appeared that Lowe might be forced out of the game with a blister on his right thumb. He was examined on the mound by Red Sox trainer Jim Rowe, but went back to work.

His dream performance finally was undone by Batista, but it was with a whimper instead of a bang. The third baseman fouled off several pitches before dribbling a ball down the third base line and outrunning Hillenbrand's desperate throw.

"I thought it was a hit right away," Lowe said. "The velocity wasn't fast enough to get to third base and the grass wasn't high enough for it to go foul. He [Hillenbrand] did the best he could."

Red Sox manager Grady Little wasted no time removing Lowe.

"He kept the ball down and we hit a lot of ground balls," Hargrove said. "When we hit the ball hard in the air, they caught it. It was just one of those nights when you end up tipping your hat to the pitcher because he did an outstanding job."

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