- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

BALTIMORE — First-year skipper Lee Mazzilli has installed all manner of inspirational slogans in and around the Baltimore Orioles’ clubhouse, but he’ll learn one basic baseball fact pretty quickly, if he hasn’t already: All the gung-ho nonsense in the world won’t help against an accomplished pitcher who is a pro in the best sense of the word.

The Orioles’ perfect season evaporated emphatically yesterday against the paralyzing pitches of Curt Schilling, who provided prima facie evidence of why he had won 162 ballgames since the O’s let him go to Houston in the disastrous trade for Glenn Davis on Jan.10, 1991.

In case Orioles fans of some duration need to be reminded, that was the deal in which Baltimore sent Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley to Houston for supposed slugger Davis, who literally was a pain in the neck because of a chronic stiffness in that area that soon ended his career.

And Schilling, back in the American League after 13 years in the National, showed up at Camden Yards yesterday to rub in a few grains of salt as the Red Sox downed the Orioles 4-1 to get even for Sunday’s icy Opening Night loss.

Maybe the Orioles shouldn’t play unless the stands are full. They billed yesterday’s much more comfortable game as a second Opening Day, but folks around here are smart enough that only 35,355 showed up in contrast to Sunday’s full house. Although the red, white and blue bunting remained in place and players in the starting lineups ran onto the field and lined up as they were introduced, nobody was fooled. You don’t have to be an expert in the laws of nature to realize that you can’t have two firsts in anything.

Except, of course, in the surrealistic world of television, which was the reason the teams played the real opener after dark to start with. After all, it was the corporate parent of ESPN — Sunday night’s electronic host — that first gave us “ABC Monday Night Football — Thursday Night Edition.”

Getting back to Schilling, which the Orioles might do later this season if they’re unlucky, he dominated the day by allowing six hits and one run in six innings while striking out seven. His only lapse came in the fifth when Larry Bigbie singled and Luis Matos doubled for Baltimore’s only run. Otherwise the big right-hander looked every bit as overpowering as he did while winning 45 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002.

Pestered early last season by an appendectomy and subsequently a broken hand, Schilling won only eight games, but his ERA of 2.95 was his lowest since he went 2.35 on behalf of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1992.

“You can’t control things like that,” Schilling replied reasonably when asked if he felt good about feeling good this season. “I probably won’t have appendicitis again.”

Yesterday’s pitching matchup seemed skewered in that the Orioles were sending a 27-year-old junkball artist, Eric DuBose, against a 39-year-old power pitcher in Schilling. The O’s fate this season likely will depend upon the good or ill fortune encountered by their Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 starters, who have won a total of 10 major league games among them. Their potential is much more impressive than their resumes, so who knows what will happen?

DuBose, the first of this quixotic quartet to face the lions this season, didn’t pitch badly, allowing four hits and three runs in 5⅓ innings. His problem was control, or the lack thereof. No fewer than six Red Sox strolled down to first base without the necessity of hitting the ball.

In the Red Sox second, DuBose got himself into the kind of trouble not uncommon for inexperienced pitchers. After walking Manny Ramirez on four pitches, he yielded a single to David Ortiz on an 0-2 offering that was too good. Following a forceout, DuBose delivered a arcing wild pitch that Javy Lopez might have caught had he been 20 feet tall and positioned 20 feet to the right of the batter’s box. Ramirez scored on that, and it became 2-0 when Jason Varitek singled in a run. Kevin Millar’s line drive homer provided Boston’s third run in the fourth.

Throwing with all the force of a spring shower, DuBose lasted until the sixth when the first of two errors by third baseman Melvin Mora and two walks loaded the bases with one out and sent Mazzilli scurrying to the mound to summon John Parrish from the bullpen. The reliever got the side out with no damage, mostly because second baseman Brian Roberts made a neat stop of Pokey Reese’s low liner and fired home for a forceout.

After the game, hosannas for Schilling were on nearly everyone’s lips. Losing pitcher DuBose put it this way: “He’s one of the best in the game. You don’t expect your offense to get a lot off him.”

The two managers were equally succinct. Said Mazzilli: “Schilling is Schilling.”

And Boston’s Terry Francona: “He was outstanding. I would have been surprised if he hadn’t been.”

The only person not properly impressed seemed to be Schilling himself. Asked if he cared to impart cosmic significance to his first American League victory since 1990, the big right-hander said simply, “It was a win, our first, and it felt good.”

Probably he anticipates 20 or so others between now and October.

Probably he’s right.

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