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Arroyo, Sox stingy on hits in Motown

DETROIT -- There is a creative desperation to each Bronson Arroyo pitch, witnessed in his many arm slots and sweeping breaking balls. Many days, and in many ways, he looks like he just gets by. But is anyone in baseball getting by any better?

"He's probably been the most consistent starter we've had since last April," said teammate Kevin Millar following Arroyo's eight-inning, three-hit, one-run tour de force in yesterday's 2-1 matinee win over the Detroit Tigers, the Sox' fifth on this seven-game road trip, before 24,870 at Comerica Park. "This guy can pitch, man. He just sleeps in the weeds."

And lives on the edges of the plate. Yesterday, Arroyo was so pinpoint that, as the game rolled on, no one was talking to him on the bench and everyone was sitting in the same place. Yes, he took a no-hitter deep into the game, into the seventh inning.

With one out in the inning, and a no-hitter eight outs away, up came shortstop Carlos Guillen, who began the day hitting .500 at home this season, tops in baseball. The switch-hitting Guillen also stepped to the plate with a .500 career average against Arroyo, a factoid that flashed across the outfield scoreboard.

"I glanced at the board," Arroyo admitted. "I didn't realize he had that many hits off me."

Arroyo got ahead, 0 and 1, on Guillen, who had been fed a steady diet of offspeed stuff in his previous at-bats.

"It was going to be fastball away or breaking ball in," Arroyo said.

He and catcher Jason Varitek settled on the latter, a 78-mile-per-hour curveball. The rationale?

"To get a swing," Varitek said. "We got a swing, but it wasn't what we wanted."

Guillen hit a hanger down the line in right, and the ball disappeared over an oddly shaped piece of outfield fencing. There's a section of outfield wall -- about 4 feet wide -- that is a foot or two lower than the rest of the fence, and the ball left the park there, barely clearing the 330-foot sign.

The home run tied the game at 1-1, the Sox having scored in the second inning on a Ramon Vazquez RBI single up the middle off Detroit starter Jason Johnson.

Until Guillen's homer, Arroyo hadn't come all that close to allowing a hit. In the second inning, Dmitri Young hit a liner to deep center that Johnny Damon had to jump a bit to catch. In the fifth, Millar made a noteworthy but somewhat routine play on a one-hop smash by Carlos Pena.

The batter after Pena in the fifth, Marcus Thames, had the best chance to that point to break up the no-hit bid, when he hooked a fly ball down the left-field line. Jay Payton was playing in place of Manny Ramirez, who finally got a day off, and the athletic Payton ran down the ball.

The no-hit possibility "crept into my mind in the sixth," Arroyo said. The 28-year-old has never thrown a no-hitter in the big leagues but did toss a perfect game with Triple A Pawtucket Aug. 10, 2003. In hindsight, he said, he felt some symmetry between yesterday and that day nearly two years ago.

"I came into the clubhouse [yesterday] feeling nauseous, feeling like I was going to throw up," he said. "I banged my elbow the day I threw a perfect game and wasn't that confident."

The one mistake, on the homer, severely jeopardized Arroyo's chance, and the team's, for a win. The Sox hit just .225 (10 for 45) in the series with runners in scoring position, leaving 40 men on base in four games, and were just 1 for 8 yesterday.

But David Ortiz came up with the big hit, a ninth-inning, two-out double off Ugueth Urbina that one-hopped off the base of the wall in straightaway center. Trot Nixon (four hits) made Ortiz's at-bat possible by singling to center. Urbina, who pitched two innings, allowing four hits and a run, made what looked to be a good pitch down low to Ortiz that he managed to drive more than 400 feet to send Nixon home.

"I was praying just to get a hit," said Ortiz, who, before that at-bat, was batting .192 (5 for 26) with runners in scoring position this season. "My part in the game is to hit. If I don't hit, it's like I am just stealing money."

Keith Foulke saved it with a 1-2-3 ninth, his seventh save in eight opportunities this season. But yesterday was just the fourth time in 14 appearances this year that Foulke did not allow either a hit or walk. All three of his outs were fly outs. Arroyo, meanwhile, was the strikeout attraction. The spindly breaking ball artist fanned a season-high eight, a couple of which demonstrated just how deceiving he can be.

In the sixth, Omar Infante took a three-quarter swing and looked thoroughly flustered after missing a 77-mile-per-hour breaking ball. Then in the seventh, Pena, after seeing so much breaking stuff all day, looked overmatched by a 91-m.p.h. fastball away.

Arroyo improved to a team-best 4-0, lowered his ERA to 3.18, and is 9-0 since his last regular-season loss, Aug. 15, 2004. Since then, the team is 14-1 when he starts in the regular season.

"Bronson's been awesome all year," said Damon. "On any other team he's a No. 1 [starter]. He might be ours."

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