Red Sox two-hit free-falling O's, who dip to 67-87

O's Johnson again gets little support in 3-0 loss

manager: `not mailing it in'

September 22, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles crawled a little closer to the finish line last night, looking hopelessly trapped in a season that feels about 40 games too long.

They managed just two hits over eight innings against Boston Red Sox starter John Burkett and fell a season-worst 20 games under .500 with a 3-0 loss before 43,613 at Camden Yards.

It was the Orioles' 15th shutout loss of the season, giving them the most since 1976, when they were blanked 16 times. The club record, set in 1955, is 20.

"We're playing hard," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "They're finishing strong. If there was some hint of just mailing it in to get the season over with, we would [talk to them], but we don't see that at all. I talk about it with the coaches a lot, and these guys are playing hard."

The baseball season operates like an endurance test, and the 162-game schedule often shows a lot about a team that a 120-game schedule wouldn't show.

Just ask the Seattle Mariners, who led the American League West with a 73-47 record in mid-August but have fallen out of playoff contention, going 16-19 since.

On Aug. 23, the Orioles felt downright giddy about their 63-63 record, but they have since dropped 24 of 28 games, muting the excitement over their big turnaround from last season.

Perhaps former Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger put it best when he was managing the Milwaukee Brewers and said, "There's not enough time to turn a bad season into a good season, but there's enough time to turn a good season into a bad season."

During this slide, the Orioles' feeble offense has spoiled some solid pitching efforts, and that happened again last night. Jason Johnson (5-14) held the Red Sox to two runs on five hits over eight innings and still lost for the fifth time in six starts.

In Johnson's 22 starts this season, the Orioles have scored two runs or less 11 times.

"Scoring runs is kind of out of my control," Johnson said. "I've kind of accepted it. There's nothing I can really do about it."

The Red Sox themselves are on the brink of elimination. The New York Yankees clinched the American League East title yesterday, and Boston's wild-card hopes will be officially dashed with one more loss or one more victory by the Anaheim Angels.

With a large Red Sox contingent making last night's crowd the biggest at Camden Yards since the June 29 sellout against Philadelphia, the Orioles had a chance to pound the final nail into Boston's coffin and couldn't do it.

The Red Sox scored the only run they would need three batters into the game, as Nomar Garciaparra delivered a run-scoring single. Johnson looked like he might not even make it out of the first inning.

Boston had a 1-0 lead with the bases loaded and no outs before Johnson received a visit from pitching coach Mark Wiley and escaped the inning without further damage.

One night after breaking Rey Ordonez's major-league record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop, Mike Bordick extended the streak to 103 games. He successfully played eight chances, including a diving catch and throw to rob Shea Hillenbrand of a hit in the fifth inning.

Though it doesn't show in the box score, Bordick actually made an error in judgment, compounding Johnson's first-inning problems. With Johnny Damon on second, Hillenbrand hit a grounder to Bordick, who saw Damon racing to third and made a quick throw to Tony Batista. But Damon beat the throw, and Hillenbrand reached on a fielder's choice.

After Garciaparra scored Damon with his single, Johnson walked Manny Ramirez, to load the bases. Wiley made his visit, and Johnson struck out hot-hitting Cliff Floyd for the first out.

Johnson jammed Carlos Baerga, who hit a little flare to Bordick for the second out, and Jason Varitek fouled out behind home plate, ending the inning.

The Red Sox added another run in the third inning, when Garciaparra tripled off the right-field wall and scored on a grounder to Bordick by Ramirez.

Before this season, Burkett was winless in seven career starts against the Orioles, but he tossed a complete-game shutout against them on July 27 at Fenway Park and was masterful again last night.

Ugueth Urbina pitched the ninth inning for his 38th save.

"I think we're playing our tails off," Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons said. "I know that for a fact. Nobody wants to finish off the season in a tailspin."

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