Lowe, Red Sox stymie O's, 2-0

Hillenbrand's catch ends rally in bid for 3rd in row

split nail forces out Lopez

April 14, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The Orioles fell back into last place yesterday. Their top starting pitcher had blood all over his right middle finger. Their hitters were melancholy after getting shut out for the second time in a young season.

But their manager, Mike Hargrove, still summed up the weekend in Boston like this: "I think we feel better about ourselves coming out of here than we did coming in."

Two rainouts turned the weekend into a nightmare task of facing Pedro Martinez on Saturday, followed by Derek Lowe yesterday. Together, those two won 41 games last season, including all eight times either one of them faced the Orioles.

But after battering Martinez and turning the Red Sox's home opener into one of the worst in franchise history, the Orioles came back yesterday and almost made the weekend into a stunning double feature.

Take away Shea Hillenbrand's spectacular, seventh-inning diving catch and the Orioles might have won again. Instead, their two-game winning streak ended with a 2-0 defeat at Fenway Park.

Nomar Garciaparra hit a first-inning home run off Rodrigo Lopez, Lowe held the Orioles to five hits in seven innings and Tim Wakefield took a turn in Boston's closer by committee, stranding the tying runners on base in the ninth.

The Orioles left in halfway decent spirits, even though they weren't sure if Lopez would be able to make his next start. The nail on his middle finger split across the middle yesterday, forcing him to leave a 1-0 game with one out in the seventh.

With a day off today before the Orioles start a three-game series in Cleveland tomorrow, Lopez isn't scheduled to pitch again until Saturday against Tampa Bay - the team that overtook the Orioles again yesterday for fourth place in the American League East.

Lopez seemed confident he'd be able to make that start, but added, "It just depends on how my skin heals."

After winning 15 games last year as a rookie, Lopez (0-2) is winless in his first three starts and has a 6.35 ERA. But coming off his worst performance as an Oriole - one week earlier against these same Red Sox at Camden Yards - he restored his confidence.

He let his fingernail grow a little too long before that last start against Boston, and the nail started splitting during that game. So he used Super Glue to hold the nail together, and things went smoothly for him yesterday until he threw a slider to Jason Varitek in the seventh.

With one out and a runner on third, Lopez did not like what happened on that pitch. The nail was split even worse, and there was blood on the finger.

"It wasn't the pain," Lopez said.

He just couldn't get the pitch to break the way he wanted.

"That pitch was up here, and what I'm trying to throw is down and in," Lopez said. "And with a man on third, I needed to know if the ball would break or not."

So Hargrove replaced Lopez with left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan, and Varitek singled to right field, scoring Boston's second run.

The Orioles' best chance came in their half of the seventh, when Tony Batista singled down the third-base line and Jay Gibbons hit a screaming liner to Hillenbrand's right.

Hillenbrand played third base his first two seasons in Boston, but with Bill Mueller coming aboard this season, the Red Sox are trying Hillenbrand at first. This was his third start there this season, and playing even with the base, he dived to his right and speared Gibbons' shot.

Batista, who probably would have made third on the play, even with his slow feet, was already a few steps toward second when Hillenbrand made the catch.

Hillenbrand touched first for the double play.

"I don't know how he saw it," said Gibbons, who stared into the same sun playing first base for the Orioles. "He made a heck of a play."

It loomed bigger and bigger as Marty Cordova and B.J. Surhoff followed Gibbons with singles. That sequence alone would probably have produced two runs for the Orioles, and, at the time, Boston was still leading 1-0.

"It was getting to the crucial point in the game for Lowe," said Red Sox manager Grady Little, who won his 100th game. "If that ball goes through, you don't know what's going to happen in the rest of the inning."

The Red Sox scored their second run, giving Wakefield an extra cushion.

Originally scheduled to start the second game of this series, he moved to the bullpen so Lowe could pitch with his usual four days' rest.

Things got tense when David Segui singled and Batista walked to start the ninth. But Wakefield struck out Gibbons with a 70-mph knuckleball, Cordova fouled out to first and Surhoff grounded to shortstop, ending the game.

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