Getting into a slugging match with the Boston Red Sox these days is about like getting into an up-tempo basketball game with the Showtime Lakers, or a doughnut-eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith.
It's not easy beating them at their own game.
Yet there the Orioles were last night, exchanging scoring sprees with the Red Sox before a spirited crowd of 23,276 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles fancy themselves as an improved offensive club, and even on a night Boston put them through the ultimate test, the Orioles still came away with a thrilling, 13-10 victory.
With the score tied 9-9 in the eighth inning, the Red Sox turned to closer Byung-Hyun Kim and the Orioles put runners at second and third with one out.
Boston pulled the infield in, but Tony Batista hit a bouncer to second, and Jerry Hairston slid home with the go-ahead run.
Melvin Mora added a run- scoring single with two outs, and the Orioles added two more runs when Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon dropped a shallow fly ball by Deivi Cruz.
The Orioles won for the fifth time in six games, and the Red Sox fell 3 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East.
After falling behind 8-4 in the sixth inning, the Orioles rallied during a controversial seventh inning to take a 9-8 lead. But Nomar Garciaparra tied it in the eighth with a monstrous, 440-foot home run off Orioles reliever Kerry Ligtenberg.
This made for an entertaining game, but it's not a recommended strategy for the Orioles, who play 13 of their final 19 games against the Red Sox and New York Yankees.
After suffering through a recent 4-16 stretch, the Orioles had turned themselves around with four wins in five games on the strength of their starting pitching.
Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed eight runs and 13 hits last night, tossed a complete-game shutout against Oakland last week. Eric DuBose and Pat Hentgen each went eight innings in consecutive wins against Seattle. The Orioles are going to need more of the same if they want to keep making a good case to save manager Mike Hargrove's job.
Hargrove and hitting coach Terry Crowley have overseen a pretty remarkable offensive turnaround this season. A year ago, the Orioles scored 667 runs or 4.1 per game.
In 143 games, they have already surpassed that total, with 687 runs, or 4.8 per game.
With the inconsistent Lopez on the mound, the Orioles drew a favorable pitching matchup, getting Boston's John Burkett. They"ll face Derek Lowe tonight and Pedro Martinez in tomorrow's series finale.
Burkett wasn't much sharper than Lopez, as the Orioles got to him for five runs on 10 hits in 5- innings.
While the Orioles spent the night scratching and clawing for each run - a ground-rule dou ble here, a sacrifice bunt there - the Red Sox did most of their damage with the long ball.
The Orioles jumped to a 3-1 lead in the first inning, but Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer off Lopez in the second, giving Boston its first lead. Cruz tied it with a run-scoring single in the fourth, but Manny Ramirez led off the fifth with his 32nd home run, putting the Red Sox back in front, 5-4.
Boston added three more off Lopez in the sixth before Hargrove finally turned to left- hander John Parrish.
The Red Sox had two players ejected during the seventh inning, when the Orioles stormed back to take the lead with four runs.
Luis Matos started the inning with a double off former Oriole Mike Timlin.
Jay Gibbons followed with a bouncer that was headed up the middle. But Timlin leaped up to make the stop and trapped Matos in a rundown between second and third base.
Matos raced toward third, and the throw from Garciaparra got past third baseman Bill Mueller. Some Red Sox fans sitting in the first row beside the Red Sox dugout later told a Boston Globe reporter that Garciaparra's throw bounced into the first row of seats before ricocheting back onto the field.
But the umpires ruled that the ball stayed in the ballpark, despite some heated pleas from Hargrove and Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn.
The Orioles were furious, but Batista scored Matos from third with a single up the middle. Larry Bigbie singled for his third hit of the game, and Melvin Mora walked, loading the bases.
Cruz followed with a three- run double down the third base line. It was a close call, and third base umpire Larry Poncino ruled it fair. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek became incensed and drew an ejection from the umpires.
Boston manager Grady Little kept arguing, and then Lowe drew an ejection from second base umpire Phil Cuzzi for going into the photo well and trying to see a replay on the cameraman's screen. The game was only carried on Boston television, and none of the replays were conclusive.