BOSTON - A ground ball that could have been turned into a double play sneaked through the infield yesterday, leaving Orioles first baseman B.J. Surhoff swiping at the dirt in anger. It was the second time his glove came up empty.
Surhoff failed to make a backhanded stop of Bill Mueller's sharp roller in the fifth inning, putting two runners on base instead of giving pitcher Rodrigo Lopez two outs. And a scoreless game wasn't going to stay that way much longer.
On the next pitch, John Olerud launched a three-run homer to right field, a typical response by the Boston Red Sox when given a break. They strung together six consecutive hits to begin the inning, added two more runs and defeated the Orioles, 5-1, at Fenway Park.
Lopez retired the first 11 batters before David Ortiz singled in the fourth. He clearly wasn't the same after Mueller reached in the fifth, allowing the home run, a double, an infield hit and Johnny Damon's two-run double on a hanging changeup.
"It possibly could have changed Rodrigo's mind-set," interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "Maybe he tried a little too hard after that to get them out. In the process, he got a few balls up and they took advantage of that."
The Orioles (64-72) went 3-3 on the road trip and failed in their attempt to win consecutive series for the first time since June. They filled their plates with steak, shrimp, ribs and pasta after the game. One player in particular had trouble digesting his meal.
"It was right in my backhand," Surhoff said, bristling at a reporter's question about how close he came to the ball. "I should have had it. It was a play I should have turned the double play on. The ball just stayed down, and obviously I came up."
Surhoff was making another start at first base with Rafael Palmeiro back in Baltimore nursing a sore right knee and ankle.
"I'd have to say I misjudged the ball," he said. "I thought I had it, no problem. Next thing I know, it was in the outfield."
Lopez (13-9) conceded that the single changed his approach to Olerud. He tried to get a double play and limit the damage to one run. Instead, he got a fastball up and paid the price.
"I made a mistake and that cost us the game," Lopez said, "They're hot, and when you're hot, everything works for you."
Lopez was 10-4 lifetime against the Red Sox - no other pitcher has more than six wins since 2002 - and 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA at Fenway Park. He was cruising again yesterday, but how long could it last against a team that has won 26 of 36 to move a season-high 25 games above .500? A team that's won 21 of its past 23 at home? A team that's batted around 26 times? You can hold them down for a while, but eventually, they'll get loose.
"They've got a powerful offense. They're so well-balanced. They just keep coming at you," Perlozzo said.
"If you're a pitcher out there, you try to look for one spot where you think you can relax, but there's none of those in the lineup. You have to keep going and going and going, and they eventually seem to wear you down."
Olerud was walking through the clubhouse before batting practice when former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, now a television analyst, turned to him while heading out a door on the opposite side and yelled, "Hey Oly, don't be afraid to do something today." Olerud smiled but didn't say a word. He got the joke, and the last laugh.
"Up and down our lineup, we've got guys who give quality at-bats and are tough outs," he said.
The Orioles' only run off former teammate David Wells came in the sixth on consecutive doubles by Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada. Wells (12-6), making his first start since serving a six-game suspension for pushing an umpire, allowed seven hits and went the distance. He retired the last 12 batters while pitching in the shadows.
"You can't see the spin," said Jay Gibbons, who singled twice while batting cleanup for the second time this season. "You see the ball in his hand, and halfway there you lose it. It's pretty dramatic here. But we weren't exactly crushing the ball to begin with. And once the shadows roll in, it's a guessing game."
Gibbons came close to robbing Olerud with a leaping catch and turning a three-run homer into a sacrifice fly.
"My armpit got caught on the fence," he said. "I ran out of arm. I thought I had it."
The Orioles thought they had the Red Sox for a while. A game was scoreless. A ground ball was about to give Lopez a double play. But one mistake meant one more loss.
"That's how you beat these guys. You've got to play a perfect game," Gibbons said. "And we didn't do it."