BOSTON -- Good times embraced Scott Kamieniecki last night. It is about time.
After suffering from a rash of injuries that could fill a medical almanac, the Orioles' veteran middle reliever held together a 1-0 win over the Boston Red Sox that began with six solid innings from Mike Mussina, included a game-winning RBI from stealth designated hitter Derrick May and culminated in another nerveless save by Mike Timlin.
Like the rest of this club, Kamieniecki's only lament might be: why so long?
The Orioles' 15th win in 16 games bumped their record to 76-77, the first time they've been within a game of .500 since starting the season 2-3. They are now 40-26 since the All-Star break and have won 10 consecutive road games, their most since winning 12 straight in 1978 and an abrupt departure for a team that endured a 3-15 start away from Camden Yards.
Mussina (17-7) earned the win with six innings that included four singles, one walk and eight strikeouts. Timlin earned his 27th save and eighth in the last 14 games. But it was Kamieniecki's two innings of bridge work between Mussina and the closer that were the evening's most compelling.
Kamieniecki, a pending free agent plagued by injuries the past two seasons, struck out four of eight hitters he faced, survived a third-strike wild pitch and won the game's tensest drama by striking out left-handed pinch hitter Brian Daubach to end the eighth inning with the tying run at third base.
"I think due to some injuries that was the reason he couldn't throw like he had in '97," said Mussina. "Now that we've got him in the bullpen in a role he relishes, he's pitching like he did then. Starting is demanding on your body one day. This isn't as taxing on him physically. He's done the job."
"Kammy's been a complete transformation in personality and everything since he went to the bullpen," said manager Ray Miller, who has employed 1997's fourth starter 38 times in relief. "He was struggling. I don't think he felt like he was doing the job for 1 1/2 years after the injury. He was pessimistic, down and negative about everything. Now he's the life of the clubhouse and upbeat. I think he feels like he belongs here."
Miller exhibited his belief during the telling eighth inning.
With a base runner at third and two outs, he stayed with Kamieniecki against Daubach rather than import Jesse Orosco, whose presence likely would have caused Red Sox manager Jimy Williams to counter with the slumping (4-for-34) Butch Huskey. The sixth left-handed hitter Kamieniecki had faced, Daubach fouled off five consecutive two-strike pitches before being called out on a half-swing.
"I think it shows. My velocity's back. My breaking ball's back. I'm able to throw downhill. The movement's there. I can talk all I want but I've got to go out and show people," Kamieniecki said. "I faced six lefties and got 'em all out."
Three months ago at 35 he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, his injuries making him an organizational enigma and his lack of confidence causing him to wonder whether his career had turned toward a dead end. Now committed as a reliever, he has surrendered runs in only five of his last 29 appearances and is again trusted with critical situations.
Moments like last night's suggest how special this September could have been.
Sure, the expanded Orioles clubhouse constructed a league-best 13-game win streak. But the project occurred within the vacuum of fourth place with the Orioles pushing for nothing more significant than a .500 record and a third-place finish. The accomplishment was largely overshadowed by Cal Ripken's chase of 3,000 hits, his abrupt departure from the team in Texas and Thursday's 90-minute surgery in Cleveland.
Last night gave a Fenway Park crowd of 32,930 a genuine thrill. Five games behind the New York Yankees and 4 1/2 games ahead of wild-card pursuer Oakland, the Red Sox began a weekend that could have guaranteed them their second consecutive postseason appearance. Boston lost ground to New York, but Oakland lost to Texas to stay 4 1/2 back.
The Red Sox's final chance died in the ninth inning when pinch runner Donnie Sadler was thrown out at third base trying to advance on Nomar Garciaparra's left-side ground ball with none out.
Twice on the disabled list this season, Boston starter Bret Saberhagen entered having walked one or fewer batters in 18 of 20 starts, including none in his last four outings.
Mussina, his pursuit of a 20-win season ended in Anaheim last weekend, entered undefeated since Aug. 6 and in possession of the league's third-lowest ERA. He also was tied for fourth in wins despite missing four starts after being struck behind the right shoulder Aug. 22.
Mussina's push for the fourth 17-win-or more season of his nine-year career began crisply. He retired the first six hitters he faced and used a double play to escape a third-inning jam caused by consecutive singles from Reggie Jefferson and rookie Wilton Veras to lead off.
The Orioles have not lacked for offense recently but struggled against Saberhagen, who surrendered a rare walk to Albert Belle in the first inning after Mike Bordick's one-out triple. The pass proved helpful when Saberhagen struck out designated hitter Derrick May to get out of the inning.
May, a candidate to assume the traded Harold Baines' spot on the roster next season, helped his chances in the fourth inning by following B. J. Surhoff's leadoff double with a one-out RBI single. The double was Surhoff's 200th hit this season, making him the third player in team history to reach the milestone. Ripken got there twice and Al Bumbry once. Surhoff is also on pace to break Ripken's season record of 211 hits.
May's contribution comes after he supplied a game-winning pinch home run last Sunday in Anaheim and drove a three-run homer off A's pitcher Omar Olivares in the Orioles' 12-4 win Thursday. Of May's 11 RBIs with the Orioles, five have tied a game or given them a lead in the eighth or ninth inning. Last night's was enough for Mussina to leave with a 1-0 lead after six innings.
Mussina and Saberhagen painted the game with efficiency. The two combined for 13 innings on only 179 pitches, a contrast to Thursday's 4 2/3-inning exhibition by Orioles rookie Matt Riley, who required 112 pitches and couldn't reach the minimum 15th out to qualify for the decision.
With his last start of the season next Wednesday, Mussina will likely clear 200 innings for the fifth consecutive season, a remarkable feat given that he has endured three stays on the disabled list the last two seasons. With 162 strikeouts, he is assured of leading the club.
Saberhagen (10-6), who has allowed the Orioles only two earned runs in 18 2/3 innings this season, somehow suffered his second loss this season to them.
Much of the explanation belonged to Kamieniecki. In what had largely been a directionless season, Kamieniecki was able to meet his family outside the clubhouse, smiling as would a man carrying a resurrected career.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
Time: 1: 15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Doug Linton (1-2, 5.74) vs. Red Sox's Ramon Martinez (0-1, 7.04)
Closing with rush
In the stretch in which the Orioles have won 15 of their last 16 games, closer Mike Timlin has eight saves. A look:
D Opp IP H ER BB SO Save
9/9 Min 1 0 0 1 1 20th
9/10 Sea 1 0 0 1 1 -
9/11 Sea 1 0 0 0 0 21st
9/13 Sea 2/3 2 2 0 0 -
9/17 Ana 1 0 0 1 0 22nd
9/18 Ana 1 1 0 0 2 23rd
9/19 Ana 1 0 0 0 1 24th
9/21 Tex 1 0 0 0 1 25th
9/22 Tex 1 0 0 0 0 26th
9/24 Bos 1 1 0 0 1 27th