BOSTON -- For only the second time this year, the Orioles went home on the wings of a victory yesterday.
One day after stopping their daytime losing streak at eight, the Orioles ended another hex with an excruciating 2-1 win over the Boston Red Sox. It was only the second time in nine attempts that the Orioles won the final game of a road trip. The last time it happened was April 29, in Minnesota, on the second trip of the year. The Orioles won six of nine on that trip to begin a surge that lifted them into contention.
Ben McDonald (11-7) pitched seven effective, but erratic, innings to claim the win, but it took a gutty escape act in the ninth by reliever Gregg Olson to clinch the victory. A walk, single and a hotly disputed potential double-play ball that resulted in no outs left Olson in a bases-loaded jam with only one out and the third and fourth hitters in the lineup waiting their turn.
John Valentin drew the walk that put everything in motion, and Wade Boggs followed with a single. Billy Hatcher then hit a slow bouncer to second baseman Bill Ripken, who made a sweeping motion to attempt a tag of Boggs and then threw to first trying to complete a double play.
Both runners were ruled safe, bringing a long argument from the Orioles, who said Boggs ran out of the base line to avoid a tag and that Hatcher was out at first base. After the game, the Orioles wouldn't discuss the play, but judging from their reaction on the field, that would not have been the case hadthe Red Sox come back to win.
Olson's initial response to his challenge was to strike out Phil Plantier on a nasty curveball. But then he fell behind to Tom Brunansky, first at 2-and-0, then 3-and-1. Two foul balls preceded a fly to Mike Devereaux in center field that ended the game and triggered an emotional outburst by Olson.
"You see a ground ball that's possibly a double play, and you don't get anybody out -- with Plantier and Brunansky coming up -- you don't feel very good," said Olson. "Then I made it difficult on myself by making two bad pitches to go 2-and-0 [on Brunansky]."
Olson survived the duel to record his 25th save (in 30 chances) and enable the Orioles to win back-to-back series for the first time in almost two months (June 5-10 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston). They finished the trip on the upswing, winning three straight to finish with a 5-2 record, but remain 4 1/2 games back in the American League East because the Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees, 7-6, yesterday.
"Any time you can come to Boston and win three games, you've got to be happy," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. Especially considering the Orioles twice had to escape late threats by the Red Sox -- first in the fifth inning of Friday night's rain-shortened game.
Leo Gomez's 12th home run of the year -- and seventh in the past 19 games -- and a run-scoring single by Cal Ripken provided all of the Orioles' scoring yesterday, in the seventh and eighth innings. McDonald, who gave up only three hits but walked five, shut out the Red Sox for six innings before giving up a run on Tony Pena's bouncing double into left in the seventh inning.
Boston starter John Dopson, from Finksburg, Md., came into the game with a perfect record (4-0, 0.95 ERA) against AL East opponents -- and a 2-0 career record against the Orioles. For most of the afternoon, it looked as if both records would stay intact.
The right-hander allowed six runners in the first four innings, but two double plays helped keep the Orioles off the board. In the first inning, Devereaux and Ripken singled with one out, but Devereaux was doubled off second on Glenn Davis' liner to shortstop Valentin.
With two on with one out in the fourth, via a walk to Davis and a single by Joe Orsulak, Gomez grounded into a double play.
McDonald had a mild brush with control trouble in the first inning, when he walked two, but got Bob Zupcic on an infield grounder. Valentin got Boston's first hit, a double into the left-field corner, leading off the third, and moved to third as Boggs grounded out.
Hatcher struck out on a wicked curve for the second out, and McDonald caught Plantier's pop to retire the side. Two innings later, a two-out walk to Valentin and a single by Boggs put runners on the corners, but Randy Milligan handled Hatcher's tricky grounder.
Gomez finally broke the scoreless tie in the seventh, but another double play took the Orioles out of the inning. The third baseman's homer cleared the screen in left to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
Bill Ripken followed with the second walk issued by Dopson, but Jeff Tackett hit a routine double-play grounder to Valentin.
The Red Sox tied the score in the bottom of the inning, when McDonald and Tackett had trouble keeping the ball under control.
Jody Reed led off with a walk, but was forced at second on Scott Cooper's attempted sacrifice bunt, the throw from Gomez to Cal Ripken barely beating the runner. Cooper moved up on a wild pitch that appeared to fool Tackett, and scored when Pena bounced a double over the head of Gomez.
Pena went to third when another pitch deflected off Tackett, this one charged as a passed ball. But McDonald got Valentin to ground out to Gomez and, after Boggs was walked intentionally, Hatcher flied to deep center.
Both starters were finished after the seventh, but before McDonald left officially, the Orioles scored the run that made him the winner. Brady Anderson greeted left-hander Tim Fossas with a bloop single to left, and went to second when Hatcher bobbled the ball.
Devereaux followed with a line drive to right field that moved Anderson to third, from where he scored on Cal Ripken's line single to center. The Red Sox's fourth double play of the game, on Milligan's roller to short, ended that inning -- and set up the frantic finish.