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Only thing that's baffling is Arroyo's stuff

DETROIT -- When they saw Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo walk off the mound prior to the start of the ninth inning in favor of closer Keith Foulke, there was a collective sigh of relief, a temporary moment where they felt a one-run lead could have been extinguished with one swing of the bat after a day of excruciating frustration.

The Tigers, 2-1 losers on a sun-splashed getaway day, intended no disrespect toward Foulke, who continued the pitching dominance with a clean save.

There was just an outpouring of respect for Arroyo.

Long after the game, the Tigers, who lost three of four to Boston, had long looks on their faces as they packed up to leave for their West Coast swing, which starts tonight in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels. They were no-hit by Arroyo for 6{sbquo} innings until Carlos Guillen broke up Arroyo's bid with a home run over the right-field fence to tie the score at 1-1.

"[Arroyo] had what I call a Bugs Bunny slider -- it started behind you and just broke all the way across the plate," said third baseman Brandon Inge, who went 0 for 4 and never got the ball out of the infield. ''It's one of those days you're just going to have to put behind you because he was nasty today."

Arroyo, who is now 4-0, is becoming quite a rags-to-riches story around baseball; a story of a kid waived by the Pittsburgh Pirates (what were they thinking?) who was picked up by Sox general manager Theo Epstein as a long reliever/end-of-the-rotation guy.

He's also a guy who just recently had to worry about staying in a top-heavy rotation.

Arroyo, 27, has talked about his financial future, and at this rate, his kids and grandkids will be taken care of quite nicely. He won't have to launch his singing career (he has a CD coming out in July) as a means to his nest egg, and he can keep music as a hobby rather than a fallback to baseball.

While Arroyo doesn't blow you away with his fastball, he's deceptive; sometimes dropping to the side, and using his breaking pitch and slider.

''It's probably as efficient as I've seen him," said pitching coach Dave Wallace, who looked in his little black book to note Arroyo's pitch count, inning by inning. "Fourteen-10-12-14-10-8. Then he had the 24-pitch inning and 21-pitch inning. He was able to do that because he was efficient."

Arroyo won two games on this road trip, first beating Texas in the second game of a three-game set after the Sox had lost the opener. In the absence of Curt Schilling and David Wells, Arroyo has certainly stepped up every fifth day.

Johnny Damon called him the team's best pitcher over the last year-and-a-half, and when you consider the team has won 14 of the last 15 games Arroyo has started, and that he's won his last nine decisions -- becoming the first Sox pitcher to do so since Pedro Martinez in 2002 -- that's not sticking his neck out very far

"It's not a surprise anymore," Wallace said. "He's a fine major league pitcher. He's one of those guys who would do anything you'd want him to. Boy, he's really learning how to pitch. He has a good rhythm when he pitches and the ball is in on you a little quicker than you think."

Only Guillen was able to make sense of anything Arroyo was offering. And if you had to pick one guy in the Tiger lineup to have foiled Arroyo's no-hit bid, you'd probably pick the guy who's hit .409 in his last 17 games. It was the only slider any Tiger hitter could touch.

''He's got great control and throws strikes," said Guillen. ''He was tough to see. His ball was rising and moving."

Once Arroyo gave up the homer, he quickly allowed a single to right to Dmitri Young. But Arroyo never changed his mood or his style of pitching. He got Carlos Pena swinging on a sweeping slider, and induced Marcus Thames to fly to center to retire the side.

Tigers manager Alan Trammell said Arroyo threw "minimal pitches and stayed ahead of the hitters the whole game. I look at him and I don't think it's anything we don't know. He's more of a breaking ball pitcher. He didn't fall behind much but when he did fall behind, 2-0, the majority of the time he'd throw a breaking ball."

Arroyo needed everything he had, because Tigers righthander Jason Johnson wasn't doing a bad job of keeping pace, allowing one run and eight hits over his seven innings.

One scout said, "You see a slider like that once in a blue moon. Honestly. You don't see a guy be that consistent with that pitch as often as Arroyo was. When you can throw it, or throw a breaking ball behind on the count and you trust yourself that much, that confidence is going to win you games. There's not much not to like about this kid. He takes the ball and throws it. He keeps everyone on their toes. Every team in the major leagues would love to have him on their side right now. He knows how to pitch."

With every superb outing, he's leaving more distance between those days when he was struggling to stay afloat in a five-man rotation to the point he's at now -- the Red Sox ace.

The only thing that could break up Arroyo's momentum is the six-day suspension he's appealed as a result of the beanball incidents at Tampa Bay April 24.

Whichever team misses Arroyo should consider themselves lucky. A lot luckier than the Detroit Tigers.

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