BALTIMORE -- As much as they dreaded the prospect of losing David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and maybe others in the coming days to suspensions, the Red Sox took some comfort in riding a three-game winning streak into last night's contest against the Orioles.
They were starting to feel something special again. Something like the feeling they had in late April, when they won nine of 10 games and swept the Yankees in the Bronx with a team withered by injuries.
"We felt like we were going to win, and we weren't worried how," manager Terry Francona recalled of the team's heyday then. "We're trying to get that feeling back because that's a great feeling."
Turns out they need to wait a little longer. In their latest misfortune, the Sox were stunned by a relatively obscure bulldog named Dave Borkowksi, a righthander who did something few unheralded pitchers have done. Borkowski, a recent Triple A call-up, overmatched Curt Schilling, holding the Sox hitless for 4 1/3 innings and putting the Birds on a glide path to a 4-1 victory before 45,780 at Camden Yards.
"He was awesome," Schilling said of Borkowski, who improved his career record to 4-11 with a 6.13 ERA. "I was going to have to outpitch him to win this game, and it didn't happen."
Borkowski surrendered only three hits over seven innings plus and allowed only one Sox player to advance past first base. B.J. Ryan took it from there, overpowering the Sox in the eighth and ninth until Ortiz struck a consolation solo homer one strike away from defeat.
"Coming into the game, we thought we would get more than that one [run]," said Johnny Damon, one of five Sox batters Borkowski held hitless. "It was a bad game for us. He didn't walk a batter, and that goes to show you that we were swinging out of the zone a little bit. Therefore, it's a quicker game."
Quick (the fastest game of the season for the Sox at 2 hours 6 minutes) and painful.
"It seemed like you looked up and it was the fifth inning already," said Kevin Millar, who collected one of Boston's four hits. "We just didn't swing the bats like we're capable of swinging them."
The Sox reached the 100-game mark with a record of 55-45, five games off last year's pace of 60-40, before Schilling effectively replaced John Burkett in the rotation.
Schilling went seven innings, allowing four runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs by Javy Lopez, a solo shot in the fifth inning and a two-run blast in the seventh. Schilling walked none and struck out two as he dropped to 12-5, suffering his first loss in seven starts since June 16. But it was hard to saddle Schilling with much blame since he kept the Sox in contention, trailing only 1-0 as they entered the sixth inning.
"When they score one run, you don't think that's going to hold up," Francona said. "I thought we were going to come back and get them, but Borkowski didn't look like he threw too many balls down the middle of the plate."
Borkowski retired the first 13 batters before Nomar Garciaparra laced a single to center on a 1-1 pitch with one out in the fifth inning. The single extended Garciaparra's hitting streak to nine games, but it did little for the Sox, who were unable to advance him as Millar grounded out and Varitek fanned.
Nor could the Sox capitalize when Bill Mueller whistled a double into the right-field corner leading off the sixth inning. In quick order, Borkowksi stranded Mueller by striking out Kapler, getting Damon to ground to first (sending Mueller to third), and Bellhorn to pop to short.
No one was harder on himself than Kapler, who tried to sacrifice Mueller to third with none out.
"I had a job to do and that was to get the runner from second to third base, and I didn't do it," he said. "That's my responsibility. I pride myself on taking care of that responsibility and I'm very disappointed in myself for not getting it done in that situation."
After Kapler's attempted sacrifice bunt rolled foul along the third base line, Francona removed the bunt sign. Kapler then swung and missed at a pitch, fouled off another, and struck out swinging. "The bottom line," he said, "is that I have to find a way to get the job done there."But Kapler was far from alone in his futility, which became more glaring when the Orioles capitalized in the bottom of the inning on the same situation. After Jerry Hairston doubled leading off, Brian Roberts promptly sacrificed him to third and Luis Lopez launched a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right-center to make it 2-0.
"In the sixth inning, they executed and we didn't," Schilling said. "That's momentum."
Lopez rode it by striking the crushing blow in the seventh. After Miguel Tejada doubled leading off, Lopez walloped a split-finger fastball on a 1-2 count for a 395-foot homer to left-center, giving Borkowski a 4-0 cushion. The pitch was fairly well placed, at Lopez's shin level, but he got all of it.
"I made a lot worse pitches for outs than the pitch he hit," Schilling said.
In any case, the Sox boarded a jet after the game for Minnesota, where they will open a three-game series tomorrow against the surging Twins, who have won 10 of their last 12 games to seize a 3 1/2-game lead in the AL Central.
"It will be a good test for us," Francona said. "We need to be ready for this. If we're not, shame on us."