BOSTON -- To find the only time the Orioles were at .500, you have to go back to the second game of the season. Back to early April, when Heathcliff Slocumb was a heat-seeker in a flammable bullpen. When a shelling of Juan Guzman wiped out the good vibes from Opening Day, and the club's only winning record to this point.
So many of the names have changed since then. But the Orioles' existence remains below sea level.
Ramon Martinez wouldn't let them see light yesterday. Returning from shoulder surgery that cost him more than a full season, he made short work of the Orioles while Boston was playing long ball with Doug Linton in the Red Sox's 4-1 victory at Fenway Park.
The loss was only the second for the Orioles (76-78) in their past 17 games. It also ended their string of 10 consecutive road victories and enabled Boston to creep closer to a wild-card berth.
Linton gave up only two hits in the first five innings, but they had teeth. Scott Hatteberg crushed his first homer of the season leading off the third. Brian Daubach, mired in a 2-for-32 slump, went the opposite way to clear the Green Monster in the fourth and move Boston ahead 2-1. Combined distance of the blasts: 807 feet.
A leadoff homer by Butch Huskey in the seventh ended Linton's day and another slump. Huskey had managed four hits in his last 36 at-bats before connecting, though there was some confusion on how many bases he could take. The ball hit one of the poles above the left-field wall and bounced onto the field. Huskey slid into second to beat the throw before noticing he was being motioned home.
"It was pretty simple today. They got four runs and we got four hits," said manager Ray Miller. "I thought Linton pitched fairly well. He made a couple mistakes, but he kept them off-balance except for the home runs."
"I felt good," said Linton, making his first start since Sept. 10. "The outcome wasn't the greatest, but I had a good curveball, good changeup, good fastball and good slider. Basically, the three home runs were on pitches that were up."
Martinez made them hold up.
A former Los Angeles Dodgers phenom, Martinez's career had been ripped apart by the surgery. He was making his third start with Boston following a stay on the 60-day disabled list.
Seeking his first win since June 3, 1998, Martinez held the Orioles to one run and four hits through seven innings. He didn't walk a batter.
After making his first start since June 14, 1998, in his Boston debut on Sept. 2, Martinez (1-1) was told by manager Jimy Williams that he likely wouldn't start again. On Sept. 14, he impressed with 4 2/3 innings in an emergency start in Cleveland, earning another opportunity.
"I was out for over a year," Martinez said. "I did understand Jimy. We're in a pennant race, but Jimy knows me when I was healthy."
Miller was less than impressed.
"I didn't think he was throwing very hard," Miller said. "We should have gotten to him early, but we swung at some pitches out of the strike zone and helped him out."
"It seems now he's more of a finesse pitcher," said Derrick May, who had been 9-for-24 with two homers off Martinez before going 0-for-3 yesterday. "He kept us off-balance. It was tough."
Catcher Mike Figga singled with one out in the third, but was thrown out trying to steal. Mike Bordick and B. J. Surhoff opened the fourth with consecutive singles, putting runners on the corners. But Albert Belle bounced to Martinez, who started a double play as Bordick scored the tying run.
Daubach's homer allowed the Red Sox to reclaim the lead, but he failed to pad it in the sixth when he struck out for the second out with Jose Offerman standing on third.
At that moment, Miller emerged from the dugout and pointed toward the bullpen, where Al Reyes had been warming. Reyes grabbed his jacket and took a couple steps onto the field, then did a quick about-face when he saw Miller strolling back to the bench with Linton still holding the ball. Miller said he was signaling for second baseman Jerry Hairston to join him on the mound.
Williams called upon Rich Garces to begin the eighth, and the Red Sox reliever responded by striking out the side. Garces added another strikeout during a routine ninth that produced his second save.
Reyes finally got into the game in the eighth, replacing Johns after a leadoff walk. Reyes hit Garciaparra and was gone. Left-hander B.J. Ryan recorded the next two outs and gave up a run-scoring single to Hatteberg that scooted under the glove of a sliding Hairston.
Linton remained optimistic. Two years removed from ligament-transplant surgery, he's lasted at least six innings in five of his past six starts, the exception coming on short rest.
"I want to stay here. If I can be that fifth guy [next season], I'd love to be it. It seems like I work well in that role," Linton said.
"If this is an audition, I think it's been a good one."
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
Time: 1: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Jason Johnson (7-7, 5.65) vs. Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (6-10, 5.35)