R. Sox's day of thunder zaps O's, 7-5

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was the loudest blast of thunder anyone could seem to remember, an ear-splitting boom that pierced the usual serenity of a baseball game.

"It sounded like it was right above my head," said Boston Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker. "Like someone was taking cannon shots at me."

It was as if Mother Nature decided to take in yesterday's Orioles game, and then, after seeing something that resembled a home run derby, she decided to enter her own prodigious shot.

The Red Sox had already hit four home runs off Rick Helling when the big thud sent them scampering from the field in the seventh inning. They came back after a pair of rain delays and hit two more homers off Kerry Ligtenberg, and those six round-trippers made all the difference in a 7-5 victory before 42,805 at Camden Yards.

"They scored seven runs, and they scored all of them on home runs," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "It's tough to defense balls hit out of the ballpark, and the Red Sox have the type of lineup that can do it to you."

Boston, which ranks second in the American League with 162 home runs, broke a four-game losing streak that had tempered the excitement general manager Theo Epstein helped generate before the trade deadline.

The Orioles fell to 8-1 at home since the All-Star break and missed a chance for their first three-game sweep of the Red Sox in Baltimore since 1974.

Helling (6-8) has built his career overcoming a propensity to give up home runs, but he spent the afternoon feeling like a carpenter who had forgotten his hammer.

"I had no curveball at all, really," he said. "I don't think I threw one for a strike today. Basically, it eliminated that pitch for me, and that's been my best pitch my whole career."

Relying on his fastball and cut fastball, Helling made it through the first two innings unscathed, but Bill Mueller singled to start the third and Doug Mirabelli, Boston's No. 9 hitter, followed with a 341-foot homer into the second row of the left-field seats.

Luis Matos answered in the bottom of the inning with a bases-empty shot off Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield (9-5). Otherwise, Wakefield's knuckleball kept the Orioles flummoxed through the first five innings, as they managed just that one hit.

By the next inning, the Red Sox had built a 5-1 lead against Helling with home runs by Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Trot Nixon.

Helling has given up 24 home runs this season, third most in the AL, and through 22 starts he's on his standard pace. He led the league in home runs allowed with 41 in 1999 and 38 in 2001, and as a fly-ball pitcher, he figured to struggle coming to the hitter-friendly confines of Camden Yards.

Until yesterday, that really hadn't been the case.

In 12 starts on the road this season, he is 3-3 with a 6.99 ERA, with 12 home runs allowed.

In 10 starts at home, he is 3-5 with a 4.01 ERA and 12 home runs allowed.

The sixth inning was Helling's last, and the Orioles chased Wakefield that inning, as well, after Jeff Conine's sacrifice fly and Tony Batista's run-scoring single.

Red Sox manager Grady Little used two of his new bullpen acquisitions to face the next two batters. Left-hander Scott Sauerbeck walked Larry Bigbie, and right-hander Scott Williamson threw a first-pitch fastball that Deivi Cruz just missed hitting for a go-ahead three-run homer.

Cruz, who's sitting one shy of his career high with 13 home runs, said he got jammed on the pitch, but hit it sharply to left.

"I tried to go deep," Cruz said, "tried to win the ballgame."

Williamson, a pitcher who figures to be a big difference-maker for Boston late in the season, had a chance to face just one more batter. It started raining, and then Robert Machado popped up to start the seventh.

Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra camped under the ball, caught it and flipped it to Walker, the second baseman, starting the ball around the horn.

That's when Mother Nature submitted her entry into the contest, and Walker and Garciaparra both buckled at the knees.

"I saw [the lightning], and it looked like it hit just east of the warehouse," Hargrove said. "It was dramatic. I'm glad I saw it because I really would have jumped higher than the umpire jumped."

The umpires halted play for 57 minutes. Alan Embree replaced Williamson for three batters, and then rain stopped play again for 62 minutes.

Hargrove turned to Ligtenberg to start the eighth when play resumed. Ligtenberg had allowed one run in his previous nine appearances, but Ortiz hit his second homer of the game in the eighth, and Mueller hit another one to start the ninth.

Those were key insurance runs, as the Orioles scored two off closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth. Matos came to the plate representing the tying run, but he flied out to right field, ending the game.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Brad Radke (7-9, 5.12) vs. Orioles' Damian Moss (9-7, 4.70) Fresh start: It has been a tough year for new O's pitcher Kurt Ainsworth, acquired from the Giants. [Page 6c]

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