Burkett outfoxes O's kid hounds

Red Sox veteran changes speeds to fly past O's, 4-0, in less than 2 1/2 hours

`We weren't smart hitters today'

Too anxious, too patient, O's on base just 2 innings

Ponson takes loss at 4-5

July 28, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The scouting report on Boston Red Sox pitcher John Burkett warned the Orioles about his speed variations, his pitch selection and his pinpoint control. It warned them not to be overly anxious in certain situations and not to be overly patient in others.

Yet as Mike Hargrove watched hitter after hitter return to the dugout yesterday in various levels of disgust, he knew those lessons had not taken hold.

Burkett finished with a four-hit shutout, as the Red Sox dispatched the Orioles and pitcher Sidney Ponson, 4-0, at Fenway Park in a speedy 2 hours, 22 minutes.

"I felt like we gave away a lot of at-bats, swinging at bad pitches even when we were ahead in counts," Hargrove said. "We weren't smart hitters today."

One night after pounding the Red Sox for a 9-2 victory, the Orioles were shut out for the 10th time this season.

Boston leads the majors with 13 shutouts, and four of those have come against the Orioles, who will face American League ERA leader Derek Lowe in today's series finale.

The Red Sox broke a scoreless tie with two runs in the fourth inning off Ponson (4-5), highlighted by Trot Nixon's leadoff triple and Shea Hillenbrand's run-scoring double, and that was more than they would need.

Burkett (10-3) had seven strikeouts and didn't walk or hit a batter all game. He threw 111 pitches, and just 30 were balls. It was his sixth career shutout and first since April 27, 2001.

"He outsmarted us today," Jay Gibbons said. "I know he outsmarted me."

Hargrove cited Gibbons as a prime example of how Burkett manipulated the Orioles' young hitters all game. Gibbons saw a total of six pitches in three at-bats, as he flied to center, grounded to first and popped to the catcher.

Gibbons, for one, is not surprised Burkett is 10-0 against the AL this season.

"His curveball is 65 mph," Gibbons said. "You don't see that very often. It makes his 85-mph fastball look about 100. With that difference in speed, it's really tough to adjust up there."

The Orioles had a runner reach base in just two of Burkett's nine innings. Chris Singleton singled to start the third, and that rally fizzled when Tony Clark, Boston's 6-foot-7 first baseman, reached up and speared a line drive by Geronimo Gil, stepping on first for the double play.

Gil's bad luck continued in the sixth, when he hit a ball off the top of the 37-foot-high Green Monster. The ball just missed being a home run, and Gil wound up with a double. Hairston followed with a single, and the Orioles had runners at the corners with no outs.

Then Burkett made a Houdini-like escape.

Leadoff man Melvin Mora, perhaps thinking it was time to show patience, watched Burkett's first two pitches for strikes, then hit a weak little popup to second base.

Seeing this transpire from the on-deck circle, rookie Howie Clark came up next, and swung at the first pitch. The result was a 4-6-3 double play. Inning over.

"It's not lack of preparation," Hargrove said. "It's not a lack of knowledge about what this guy's going to do. They're given those reports. We talk to them all the time - before, during and after the game.

"But young hitters have a tendency to forget about three-fourths of what you say between the on-deck circle and home plate, and a guy like this will really show against a young hitting ballclub."

The Orioles had been 14-6 in Ponson's starts, and once again they didn't give him any help. He allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings.

Gil, who leads AL catchers with 15 passed balls, had two in this game, including one that allowed Nixon to score after his fourth-inning triple.

Hargrove thought Ponson's only bad pitch came in the fifth inning, when Red Sox No. 9 hitter Lou Merloni hit his first home run at Fenway Park since his first at-bat in the old ballpark on May 15, 1998. After fouling off four consecutive pitches, Merloni crushed a 3-2 fastball from Ponson over the Green Monster in left-center.

Ponson has just two wins in his past 15 starts, and on this night he was outpitched by a guy whose fastball is about 8 mph slower.

"You have to tip your hat to Burkett," Ponson said. "He threw a real good game today, changed speeds, kept everybody off-balance. That's what every pitcher wants to do when he goes out there."

Orioles today

Opponent:Boston Red Sox

Site:Fenway Park, Boston

Time:1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (4-9, 4.25) vs. Red Sox's Derek Lowe (13-5, 2.33)

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