His night to remember Dopson calls victory over Orioles highlight of career


The hands on the old-fashioned clock that rests above the scoreboard at Oriole Park at Camden Yards read 7:48 Tuesday evening.

Finksburg's John Dopson, wearing his visiting gray Boston Red Sox uniform, threw his first-ever pitch in front of his hometown crowd -- a strike to the Orioles' Brady Anderson.

A couple of hours later, Dopson would leave the mound owning a 4-1 lead with one out in the eighth. A homer by Chris Hoiles in that inning was the only run the Orioles could muster off the 6-foot-4 right-hander.

As he walked back to the visitor's dugout, the sellout crowd gave him a well-deserved hand, led by the 40-or-so family and friends Dopson obtained tickets for.

Dopson's numbers on the night were impressive. He threw 96 pitches, 60 of them for strikes; allowed four hits; struck out one and walked one.

He got 15 ground-ball outs and retired the side in order four of the seven complete innings he pitched.

Most importantly, he got the win -- the only one the Red Sox would enjoy in the three-game series.

"It was a big win for me personally and a great win for the team," he said after the game.

The following day, after a little more time to reflect, Dopson called it "the most memorable night of his career."

It's been a long, tough road back for the 28-year-old Dopson, who has spent more time on the disabled list with arm problems than on the active roster in his major-league career.

The last setback was elbow surgery in August 1990. He spent most of last season in rehabilitation -- starting six games at Winter Haven in the Florida State League before coming up late in the season to pitch one inning for the Red Sox.

It was the possibility of a night like Tuesday that kept Dopson striving to once again be the pitcher he was when he went 12-8 in his first season as a Red Sox in 1989 (he began his career with the Montreal Expos in 1985). It looks like he's there.

"I still can't believe I made it all the way back," Dopson said.

"I'm completely healthy now, and [my arm problems] are all behind me now. I don't even think about it."

Boston catcher Tony Pena called Dopson's stuff "nasty" on Tuesday night, while first-year manager Butch Hobson said it was easily Dopson's best start of the season.

"It was an outstanding performance. The one pitch he got up to Hoiles was the only bad one he threw up there," Hobson said.

"He's a big, strong man who throws right at you. He's a real hard worker, and I was really happy for him pitching the way he did in front of his home crowd. He's had success in the big leagues before, and after spending two years sitting, we're expecting a good year from him."

The nasty stuff Pena was referring to was a hard sinker and a "slurve," which is a mix between a slider and curve that, when working well, breaks both down and to the side.

"The key was he [Dopson] was throwing strikes and keeping the ball down," Pena said. "He was getting his good sinker and slider over and getting a lot of ground balls."

It couldn't have come at a better time for Dopson, who evened his record at 2-2 on the season and dropped his earned-run average to 4.20. After struggling in his last two starts -- losses to Seattle and Oakland -- a little home cooking was all he needed to get back on track.

"I was thinking about my family and friends [who were at the

game] when I first got out there," Dopson said.

"It helped me bear down a little more. I didn't want to embarrass anyone, and I'm just glad things worked out so well."

Though he grew up as an Orioles fan 30 miles away from Memorial Stadium, Dopson never got the opportunity to pitch at the old park. But winning at Camden Yards wasn't all that bad.

"In 1989, every time we were here it wasn't my turn to pitch in the rotation, so I never had the chance," he said.

And how does he like the new ball yard?

"Right now, I like it a lot . . . really a lot," he said Tuesday night after the win.

"I always followed the Orioles growing up and always envisioned playing for them. It's a great thrill beating them."

After the game Tuesday, Dopson headed up to Finksburg to spend time with his family, including his dog, Chief. He got a couple of good, home-cooked meals from his mother, Joan -- who he credits for much of his success.

"My family has been behind me all the way," Dopson said.

"They've always been there in one way or the other, particularly my mother. Whether it's just a vote of confidence or driving my things to Florida in my truck during rehab, my mom has always been there."

"I don't think I'd be in this uniform today without my mother."

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