BOSTON - The unpredictable nature of Tim Wakefield's knuckleball made last night a complete question mark for the Orioles.
As hot as their hitters were, they knew if that pitch fluttered just right, the Boston Red Sox could escape with a split in their day-night doubleheader and avoid the ignominy of getting swept in the three-game series.
So no matter how frustrated the Orioles were after flailing away against Wakefield for seven innings in a 4-0 loss that ended their four-game winning streak, they still left Fenway Park feeling somewhat satisfied.
It felt good just putting the Red Sox in such a precarious position.
After winning the first game, 8-3, beneath a blistering afternoon sun, the Orioles retreated to their air-conditioned clubhouse and spoke proudly of the way they'd changed the momentum of a disappointing season.
"Now," Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada said, "every time we take the field, we think we can beat anybody."
By splitting the doubleheader, the Orioles finished 6-3 on a road trip that started after the All-Star break with four games at Tampa Bay and two at Kansas City. And beyond quelling speculation about manager Lee Mazzilli's job security, the trip taught the Orioles a few things about themselves.
For one thing, they can hit left-handed pitching. The Red Sox tried exploiting this obvious weakness by importing Abe Alvarez - a 21-year-old left-hander from Double-A - to face them in Game 1.
A lefty hadn't started a game for the Red Sox since Casey Fossum took the mound against Oakland on Aug. 21, 2003.
But the numbers were too enticing. The Orioles were 10-21 against left-handed starters, and that included losses against some pretty under- whelming names, including Jeff Fassero, John Halama, Mark Hendrickson (twice), Jimmy Gobble and Darrell May.
Needing an extra pitcher for the doubleheader, the Red Sox gave Alvarez a chance to make his major league debut. Legally blind in his left eye, Alvarez doesn't throw a pitch faster than 88 mph, but Boston hoped his soft offerings could keep the Orioles befuddled.
But when the right-handed-hitting Melvin Mora returned from the disabled list Sunday, it made the Orioles significantly more dangerous against lefties.
Mora pounced on an Alvarez pitch for a run-scoring double in the first inning, and Tejada followed with a two-run homer into the seats above the Green Monster.
Those two struck again in the third inning, as Mora hit a home run and Tejada hit a double. Mora added another home run off Red Sox right-hander Ramiro Mendoza in the ninth, raising his season total to 15.
Handed a three-run first-inning lead, Rodrigo Lopez (8-6) earned the victory, holding the Red Sox to one run on 10 hits in six innings.
"I got in trouble almost every inning," Lopez said. "I give a lot of credit to all those guys behind me."
Lopez thanked Tejada specifically. Besides hitting his third home run in four games, the shortstop made a pair of sparkling defensive plays, going behind second base to rob Mark Bellhorn to end the second inning and doing the same to Bill Mueller to end the game.
After that last play, Tejada sat on the infield grass with a cramp ravaging his left calf. Instead of gathering at midfield to congratulate each other, the team gathered around Tejada to make sure their leader was OK.
Tejada, who has been experiencing cramps in his other leg throughout the season, shook off the injury and returned for Game 2, stretching baseball's longest consecutive-games streak to 688 games.
In his past five games, Tejada has 11 RBIs, giving him 87 for the season, which matches him with Boston's David Ortiz for the American League lead.
Banged up and bruised, the Orioles were still feeling pretty good about themselves again when Brian Roberts and David Newhan opened the second game with a pair of singles off Wakefield, putting runners at the corners.
And then came the play that swallowed their momentum whole.
Mora lined a ball to left field, and Roberts tagged up at third base, as David McCarty ran over to make the catch. On third base coach Tom Trebelhorn's signal, Roberts raced for home, and McCarty made a perfect one-hop throw in time for catcher Doug Mirabelli to apply the tag.
Wakefield (6-6) unleashed another knuckleball, and Tejada fouled out to first base, ending the inning.
Afterward, the play at the plate was still stuck in Mazzilli's craw.
"With no outs, you've got to be sure," Mazzilli said. "That turned the momentum right there."
With Fenway's 112th consecutive sellout crowd stirring, the Red Sox jumped on Orioles starter Dave Borkowski for three first-inning runs.
Pitching on three days' rest, Borkowski (1-2) looked rattled that inning, as he issued two walks and committed a balk. Manny Ramirez had an RBI groundout, and McCarty hit a two-run single to right field, padding the lead.
After that, Borkowski settled down. He left after allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings.
"I just kicked myself and said, `Stop trying to be so fine and go after these guys,'" Borkowski said.
But the real story was Wakefield, who allowed eight hits and no walks, holding his opponent without a run for the third time in his past three starts.
Mazzilli sounded dour after the loss, but he agreed it had been a successful trip.
"Absolutely, no question," he said. "We went 6-3, and going into the last game, we had a chance to be 7-2. The guys played very well."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Carlos Silva (8-7, 4.47) vs. Orioles' John Maine (major league debut)