Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe have been as dominant against the Orioles as two pitchers can be. It's enough to make a team cry for mercy. Check the pitching matchup, then check the weather forecast. Martinez and Lowe and pray for ... snow?
Yesterday, Martinez had one last chance to pad his statistics against the free-falling Orioles, and he came away with his 20th victory.
Sidney Ponson engaged Martinez in a pitcher's duel for six innings, and then the bottom fell out, as Boston rolled to a 13-2 victory before 30,573 at Camden Yards.
The Red Sox hit five home runs over the final three innings, including two by Johnny Damon and a ninth-inning grand slam by Trot Nixon, sending the Orioles to their fifth straight loss.
Afterward, the Orioles seemed almost numb. They have lost 25 of their past 29 games, and they had just seen a close contest turn into a rout.
"What can I say?" Orioles left fielder Melvin Mora said, staring blankly into the clubhouse. "It's hard. It's hard to believe. But we have to continue to play."
Martinez (20-4) held the Orioles to two runs on seven hits over six innings, leaving his ERA at 2.26. With the Red Sox nearing elimination in the playoff race, there's no reason to push it, and Martinez said he would skip his final start of the season.
Martinez and Lowe (21-7) became the first two Red Sox pitchers to win 20 games in the same season since Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder combined to win 48 games in 1949.
Against the Orioles, Martinez and Lowe combined to go 8-0 with a 1.59 ERA.
"Any time you can go into the seventh inning, within a run or two or tied when Pedro's pitching, you feel pretty good about it," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Sidney was throwing pretty well. He just had that one inning when he left his pitches up."
Shea Hillenbrand hit a two-run, two-out double off Ponson, giving the Red Sox a 3-2 lead in the second inning, and then both starting pitchers settled into grooves.
Ponson retired 13 of 15 batters heading into the seventh inning, but things evaporated quickly. Rey Sanchez led off with a single, knocking an 0-2 fastball into left field. Once again, Ponson's inability to finish off a hitter came back to bite him.
Damon followed with the game's decisive blow, a two-run homer into the right-field seats that increased Boston's lead to 5-2.
"I had nothing today," said Ponson, who fell to 1-8 for his career against the Red Sox. "Coming into the game, throwing in the bullpen, I couldn't throw my changeup really good. I only had one pitch, basically, a fastball. The first couple of innings, they were just sitting back and waiting for the fastball. I didn't do a good job today."
Ponson (7-8) had been pretty solid in his previous five starts, going 3-2 with a 2.55 ERA. Both of the losses in that span were complete games. But this time, his final pitching line turned into one of his worst of the season: 6 1/3 innings, 10 hits, seven runs, all earned, two walks and six strikeouts.
Two batters after Damon in the seventh, Nomar Garciaparra hit his 23rd homer into the left-field seats.
"When we're pitching bad, we're hitting good," Ponson said, explaining the Orioles' tailspin. "Some days we hit pretty good and we give it up. It's a bad formula to win games. It's not only the pitchers, and it's not only the hitters, it's everybody.
"We got to 63-63 [their record on Aug. 23], and it looks like we shut everything down and hit a wall or something. It's frustrating for everybody."
Boston wound up scoring 10 runs in the final three innings. Cliff Floyd hit a two-run homer off reliever B.J. Ryan, Damon hit his second homer off Eric DuBose, and Nixon hit his grand slam off rookie Steve Bechler.
"We just couldn't stop the bleeding," Hargrove said, explaining the afternoon and the season at large.
Opponent:Boston Red Sox
TV/Radio:CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters:Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (11-5, 2.77) vs. Orioles' John Stephens (2-4, 6.00)