- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

BALTIMORE As the season enters its final week, the Baltimore Orioles have little left to play for. The Red Sox can thank them for that, because without the Orioles' support, Boston's season already would be moot.
With a 3-0 victory at Camden Yards last night, the Red Sox staved off playoff elimination for at least 12 more hours. A Boston loss (or an Anaheim win earlier in the day) would have assured the Angels of their first postseason berth since 1986 and the Red Sox of another long winter.
Don't worry: Barring a miracle the likes of which New England has never experienced, Red Sox Nation will spend another offseason lamenting another missed opportunity to end "the Curse of the Bambino." The Angels' lead the American League wild-card race by 7 games with eight games to play, so it's only a matter of time before the folks in Anaheim are popping champagne bottles.
But the large collection of Red Sox faithful who were part of the 43,613 at Camden Yards went home with the tiniest sliver of hope that their season still has meaning.
John Burkett ensured as much with eight brilliant, two-hit shutout innings against a punchless Orioles lineup that was shut out for the 15th time this season (tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for most in the majors) and left starter Jason Johnson out to dry yet again.
"Fifteen I don't know what to say to that," manager Mike Hargrove said, "other than the fact that we go out and play hard and it doesn't always work. A lot of those shutouts, we've hit the ball hard right at people. Tonight we just didn't hit the ball hard, period."
Poor run support is nothing new for Johnson, who would rank last in the AL with 3.6 runs scored for him per game if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. The Baltimore right-hander shouldn't have been surprised at all by the zeros his teammates posted on the scoreboard last night. In one-half of his 22 starts this season, the Orioles have scored two or fewer runs. It's a staggering statistic, one that not only underscores Johnson's bad luck, but the Orioles' severe lack of punch.
"I'm just trying to go out there and throw a quality start, keep the team in the game. That's the only thing, really, that I can do right now," Johnson said. "Scoring runs is kind of out of my control. I've kind of accepted that there's nothing I can do about it if we don't get any runs."
So even when he gutted his way through a tenuous first inning Boston's first four batters reached but only one scored Johnson had to be wondering in the back of his mind if that single run would be enough to do him in.
Turns out it would have been, although Johnson (5-14) surrendered another in the third, when Nomar Garciaparra tripled off the right-field fence and scored on Manny Ramirez's groundout.
From that point on, Johnson was brilliant, giving up one hit and allowing just three to reach base over his final six innings. An impressive performance, to be sure, but not as impressive as the one offered up by Boston's starter.
The Orioles have been stymied by Burkett before the ageless Red Sox right-hander tossed a four-hit shutout against them July27 at Fenway Park. Baltimore came back to pound him for six runs in 3⅔ innings last week in Boston, but Burkett was up to his old tricks again last night.
Jay Gibbons singled in the second. Luis Lopez doubled in the eighth. Chris Richard, Jeff Conine and Jerry Hairston drew walks. That was sum total of the Orioles' attack against Burkett (12-8), who departed after the eighth in favor of closer Ugueth Urbina.
Note
Rodrigo Lopez, seeking to become the Orioles' first Rookie of the Year winner since Gregg Olson in 1989, may not get one last chance to impress voters. Hargrove said the club is considering skipping over Lopez's one remaining scheduled start (Wednesday at Toronto) because of his exhaustion from more than 300 innings pitched in the majors and winter ball.

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