- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001


BALTIMORE It probably wouldn't be much of a stretch to say the Baltimore Orioles learned quite a bit during yesterday's 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
They learned that Josh Towers has the ability to readjust to the same American League hitters that were beginning to solve his style of pitching.
They learned that Willis Roberts can handle a ninth-inning pressure situation and has the tools to become an energizing force in this team's bullpen.
And they learned that when it really counts, Cal Ripken still won't let them down.
On a sweltering, rainy afternoon at Camden Yards, Ripken moved into a tie for 14th place on the all-time hits list with three singles, Towers turned to his off-speed pitches to help him win for the first time in more than a month and Roberts blew away the heart of the Red Sox lineup to record his second career save.
After five straight losses, Towers recaptured his June magic by retiring 17 of the first 18 batters, thanks in part to a new approach to pitching. The slender control artist, who has issued one walk in his last five outings, had gotten into a habit of throwing first-pitch fastballs to almost every hitter. Yesterday he kept Boston's lineup off balance with an assortment of curveballs and sliders.
"It just gave people in the league a little more to think about," manager Mike Hargrove said. "I'm sure the word got around that Josh was a first-ball fastball pitcher. The farther that Josh got into his string of starts, we saw more and more clubs swinging from the get-go. It's a game of adjustments. You finally see a pattern, and you adjust to counteract that."
For five innings, the Red Sox could not adjust to Towers (7-7). The rookie retired the first nine, gave up a bloop single to Trot Nixon in the fourth that was nearly caught by the diving Larry Bigbie in center field, then proceeded to retire the next eight.
Nixon finally put Boston, which lost its sixth straight road game, on the scoreboard in the sixth with a solo homer to center. Manny Ramirez added another run with a solo blast an inning later, and Brian Daubach threatened to start a rally with a one-out double. But Towers got Chris Stynes to fly out to left, and left-hander B.J. Ryan induced pinch hitter Shea Hillenbrand to fly out to right to end the inning.
Thus, after losing games to the likes of Tampa Bay and Toronto, Towers returned to beat one of the better hitting teams in the American League.
"If you get the ball down and locate it inside and out, throw strikes when you want to throw strikes, it doesn't matter who's hitting," he said. "They may get a few hits here and there, but more times than not you're going to win that battle."
It certainly helped matters when the Orioles took advantage of a rare off day by David Cone and capitalized on a couple Red Sox mistakes to score four early runs. Tony Batista put Baltimore ahead 1-0 with a second-inning sacrifice fly that scored Chris Richard, who had gone from first to third on Ripken's perfectly executed hit-and-run.
One inning later, three walks by Cone (7-2) and two Boston errors brought two more runs home. Doubles by Jerry Hairston and David Segui in the fourth made it 4-0 and knocked Cone out of the game, his shortest start since May.
Four Red Sox relievers held the Orioles scoreless the rest of the way, though none could contain Ripken, who went 3-for-3 with a walk and tied Paul Waner for 14th on the all-time hit list (3,152) with his seventh-inning single up the middle.
After that, it was up to Roberts to close things out and secure the Orioles' fourth win in five games. The recently converted starter dominated in his first true pressure situation, facing Nomar Garciaparra, Ramirez, Dante Bichette and Daubach with a two-run lead in the ninth.
The 26-year-old rookie threw 12 pitches, nine of them fastballs and all but one for a strike. He consistently hit 97 mph on the radar gun with his fastball, one of which was tagged by Ramirez for an opposite-field double.
Roberts merely responded with a pair of devastating split-finger fastballs, one to Bichette (who grounded out to third) and one to Daubach (who struck out to end the game). The crowd of 48,748, most of which waited out a 49-minute rain delay in the seventh inning, roared its approval.
"That split he threw to end the inning, that was ridiculous," Towers said. "I think he's an ideal closer."
Said Hargrove: "Superman couldn't have hit that pitch."
The Orioles' plan was to ease Roberts into the closer's role, a process that could take a month or so. Hargrove may have seen all he needed to yesterday, punctuated by Roberts' emotional reaction to striking out Daubach.
"That last out, I was concentrating to throw the ball away and down," Roberts said. "With two strikes I said, 'I need to throw my best breaking pitch right now.' "

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