He possesses a higher career winning percentage than Mike Mussina, a harder fastball than Roger Clemens and more run support than Pat Rapp. Camden Yards got its first glimpse of Oakland Athletics starter Tim Hudson last night and won't likely forget the experience.
Hudson, all heat and movement, shut down the Orioles' four-game win streak last night with 7 1/3 one-hit innings in what ended as a 4-0 two-hitter. If not for center fielder Terrence Long's near-miss of Will Clark's fifth-inning line drive, Hudson (6-2) may have celebrated history rather than the second-most suffocating performance the Orioles have witnessed this season.
Hudson allowed only two balls out of the infield while striking out five. While Orioles starter Jason Johnson (0-3) was merely evasive, Hudson experienced few problems.
Hudson's dominance extended of the Orioles' recent offensive doldrums. While the league is averaging 5.37 runs per game, the Orioles have averaged only 3.92 runs over their last 12 games. Last night marked the 12th time in 16 games they have failed to score more than four runs.
Along with reliever Jeff Tam, Hudson held the Orioles without an extra-base hit for only the second game this season. The shutout was the Orioles' second and the first not thrown at them by Pedro Martinez.
Hudson entered the game sixth in the league in strikeouts between Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez. His appearance represented a contrast to A's Friday starter Mark Mulder, an off-speed left-hander whom the Orioles crushed for four home runs. Hudson, a sixth-round draftee in 1997 who last season became the first 10-game winner drafted and developed by the A's since Curt Young in 1988, raised his career record to 17-4 in 32 appearances, two of them against the Orioles.
Opponents entered last night hitting only .244 against Hudson but walks had tormented him. However, he found no trouble working both sides of the plate against the Orioles. In fact, Hudson was so adept that Mike Hargrove earned his first ejection as Orioles manager for arguing from the dugout that plate umpire Alfonso Marquez was using one zone for Hudson and another for Johnson.
Regardless, Hudson pitched on another level. While the big-swinging A's helped him to a 5-2 start with the league's best run support (9.62 runs per nine innings), he earned his sixth win by dominating a fastball-craving lineup.
Albert Belle and Harold Baines managed to pull ground balls in the second inning before Hudson went on a tear of three consecutive strikeouts. Through three innings, the Orioles couldn't get a ball out of the infield as Hudson cruised on 40 pitches.
Hudson remained perfect through four innings after helping himself by deflecting Delino DeShields' line drive to second base for the second out.
Through three innings, Hudson went to three balls against only two hitters. One of them, DeShields, lined a 3-1 pitch back at him in the fourth.
History caught up with Hudson in the fifth inning as he went to three-ball counts against the first three hitters faced. Belle helped by popping out on a 3-1 count. Baines then walked to break Hudson's perfect run. Ripken also walked. Clark then drilled an 0-1 pitch to center field. Long froze momentarily on a ball that started at him then tailed to his glove side. He charged, laid out and reached the ball only to have it deflect off his glove's webbing for a single.
Instead of protecting a no-hitter, Hudson suddenly found himself protecting a precarious lead with catcher Greg Myers approaching. This time Hudson got ahead of the hitter and was rewarded with a soft grounder to the mound, which he turned into a 1-2-3 double play.
Hudson's mesmerizing start overshadowed the latest strong effort by the Orioles' rotation. Johnson trailed 2-0 after five hitters when A's first baseman Olmedo Saenz drove a double over the head of tumbling center fielder Brady Anderson.
Four of the first seven A's reached. Johnson faced runners in scoring position in five of the first six innings but dealt the A's an 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position following Saenz's blast.
Last night marked the fourth time in six starts since his April21 recall from Rochester that Johnson lasted at least six innings. Coming off seven shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox May 13 with the added inconvenience of last weekend's rained-out start in Texas, Johnson looks to have grown comfortable with the pace and mechanical adjustments advocated by pitching coach Sammy Ellis following his traumatic four-inning beating in Toronto May 8.
The last five games have not only allowed the Orioles to end a 2-15 funk, but also seen the rotation's most productive turn this season. Given Johnson's first start in two weeks, the starters have turned in five straight quality starts while compiling a 2.12 ERA over that span. Though they've earned only three wins in their last 12 starts, the rotation owns a 3.35 ERA.
Johnson's exit coincided with middle reliever Chuck McElroy's return from a 13-day exile. Not since he appeared in the Orioles' 10-1 loss to the Red Sox on May 14 had either he or Jose Mercedes, who pitched the ninth, been trusted with the ball. McElroy retired the side in order in the seventh inning. Matt Stairs' double to begin the eighth inning brought bench coach Jeff Newman out of the dugout and Al Reyes into a game that retained suspense.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch.54/WBAL (1090AM)
Starters: Athletics' Omar Olivares (3-5, 5.80) vs. Orioles' Pat Rapp (3-2, 4.61)