BOSTON - Thank goodness for B.J. Surhoff. Thank goodness for 40-year-old veterans who can still run down fly balls with their backs to the Green Monster, bailing out a starting pitcher who had the bases loaded in the seventh, no one out and not a creature stirring in the bullpen.
Larry Bigbie on the DL. Luis Matos on the DL. All that youth and fleet-of-foot speed, yet the Orioles see last night's win over the Red Sox as preserved with the help of the defensive work (and an add-on, ninth-inning RBI) of a guy who might be retired if he and his family didn't make their home in Baltimore.
Against all odds, the Orioles pushed their American League East lead up another notch with a resounding 9-3 win over the Red Sox.
Who'd have thunk it'd be this easy pre-game, considering the situation that left the Orioles little margin for error, or further injury?
A depleted bench, with nothing but recent minor-league call-ups sitting there, unlikely to be used and proof that the Orioles might want to consider some trades, soon. An injury to another All-Star position player. A starter cruising until he hit a major pothole in the scary seventh.
Good thing Sidney Ponson had that seven-run cushion to work with, again.
The Orioles defied the odds of their current composition and ill health last night. They did it in all kinds of ways.
It had been more than a month since Sammy Sosa's last homer as an Oriole. It had been 16 years since he last hit at Fenway Park, which is also the place where Sosa just happened to hit his first major league home run.
Talk about coming full circle.
So what if Sosa tagged Roger Clemens back on June 19, 1989, but this time merely used a flattened-out delivery from Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to feel the power and the glory of the long ball again.
Sosa's was the third homer in three innings off Wakefield, pushing the Orioles" lead to 5-0 and helping to knock Wakefield out after 5 2/3 innings.
Talk about strange situations.
The list of reasons why the Orioles should have lost last night are long.
For starters, Ponson was on the mound. The highest-paid and most-experienced Orioles pitcher had five wins going into the game, but he also had the fifth-highest ERA (5.66) in the American League.
If the Orioles' offense hadn't been so stout, if he hadn't gotten such healthy run support, Sir Sid wouldn't be joking so much with Baltimore writers about where the team might trade him. Not that the O's are trying. Still, it's fun to speculate.
"Hey, where am I being traded to now?' Sir Sid always wants to know.
This week's suggestion: Orix Blue Wave.
Sir Sid's response: "Good, I like sake. Cold, hot, warm, whatever. I don't give a X@&#!'
Oddly, for a veteran pitcher whose failure to achieve ace status should embarrass him and make him angry that Erik Bedard is now the team's ace - so says Sir Sid - Ponson's "I don't give a X@%#! attitude has yet to seriously bite him in the backside.
Ah, the luck of the Orioles. Ponson recorded win No. 6, getting away with a few 3-0 counts to the likes of Manny Ramirez and otherwise making pitches when he needed to, until the gut-check seventh, when the Sox scored three unearned runs.
Good Sidney. Bad Sidney. You never know.
It made little sense, the way the Orioles escaped the seventh, with David Ortiz walking and Manny Ramirez finally collecting a two-RBI single to make it dicey.
But dicey isn't the same as being sliced and diced. The Orioles survived.
It was a night when the leading All-Star vote-getter among American League second basemen, Brian Roberts; the man who leads the AL in batting average and who has generally been in the middle of everything good the Orioles have done offensively this season, did not play.
The Orioles" .368 lead-off hitter woke up in the middle of the night in his Boston hotel room and found an ache in his right shoulder where no ache had been when he fell asleep.
"I didn't get a good feeling from the trainer, not the feeling I wanted to have." manager Lee Mazzilli said about his decision to scratch Roberts.
Of course, at a time when the O's might wonder "what if' they had not traded Jerry Hairston, Mazzilli had an answer. He inserted utilityman Chris Gomez into the starting lineup, then watched as Gomez belted a double in his first at-bat, then scored on Geronimo Gil's three- run homer.
The O's need Javy Lopez back as soon as possible, but what a boost getting a power boost from Gil.
Gil started last night instead of Sal Fasano, who was originally penciled into the lineup, only to have White-Out swiped over his name sometime before it was posted. Maybe someone realized Gil had been 5-for-10 career against Wakefield. Make that 6-for-11, with gusto.
Or, maybe it was as simple as the O's needing Fasano behind the plate this afternoon to catch Hayden Penn's second major league start.
"I'm kind of curious myself to see him go out there." Mazzilli said about Penn.
Hey, one thing at a time, Maz. Last night's curiously big win was curious enough to last a while.