What began at 7:08 p.m. at Fenway Park last night and lasted until 8:07 (when Bronson Arroyo exited) wasn't a baseball game as much as a laser show. Balls were zipping around -- and out of -- the yard in a manner inconsistent with the body of work Arroyo had submitted in the 59 1/3 preceding innings he'd pitched this season.
''I just got killed, straight up," said Arroyo, who lost his second consecutive start after going unbeaten in 17 starts dating to last August. ''They hit every pitch like they knew it was coming. I don't think they took more than two or three swings where they were baffled and didn't know what was coming. It was like BP out there."
The Red Sox' spindly breaking-ball artist went a season-low 2 2/3 innings in an 8-1 defeat at Fenway, where the 35,483 on hand didn't last much longer. Arroyo's counterpart, righthander Rodrigo Lopez, who is 31-29 in his career against teams not based in Boston, improved to 9-4 against the Red Sox.
The Sox, who pounded Lopez for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings April 26, hit much the way they did April 21 at Camden Yards. That night Lopez worked eight innings, holding Boston to five hits and one run, which was unearned. Last night's line was almost identical: 8 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, unearned. Twice this season the Sox have scored just one run; in both instances, Lopez pitched. No one has beaten the Sox more times than Lopez (nine) since 2002.
After pounding the Yankees for 52 hits and a .406 average in the weekend series at Yankee Stadium, the Sox did not advance a runner beyond second base until the eighth inning.
''He just had a lot of off-speed stuff tonight," said Trot Nixon. ''A little more than in the past."
Arroyo, meanwhile, had gone at least 5 2/3 innings and thrown an average of 100 pitches in his nine other starts. But he was roughed up for a season-high 10 hits and seven runs.
His ERA, as svelte as Arroyo himself at 3.19 going in, was 4.06 by the time he walked off the mound before dusk had settled over the Back Bay.
Of the 10 hits Arroyo allowed, three came to rest in the stands. OK, two were ground-rule doubles, one a homer, but all three were scorched.
Baltimore (31-19) scored once in the first inning, once in the second, and five times in the third. The Orioles, now four games up on the second-place Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays (all 27-23), easily could have led by a 9-0 count or more if not for two excellent outfield plays.
Nixon threw out Miguel Tejada at home to end the first on a B.J. Surhoff single to right. Manny Ramirez, in the second, cut down David Newhan attempting to score on a Melvin Mora single.
Those were crucial plays at the time, holding Baltimore to a 2-0 lead, rather than 4-0. But the Orioles blew up in the third.
Tejada tripled to lead off and scored on a one-out single by Rafael Palmeiro.
Surhoff then ripped a ground-rule double that hopped into the Sox bullpen, and with runners on second and third, Arroyo walked Jay Gibbons to face catcher Sal Fasano, who promptly fanned.
But the next batter, No. 9 hitter Newhan, would be Arroyo's last. Newhan lofted a full-count curveball down the right-field line and into the seats, putting a 7-0 lead on the board with his first grand slam.
The last spot in the order has been trouble for the Sox this season. According to statistician Chuck Waseleski, No. 9 batters are hitting .282 vs. Boston with 8 HRs and 31 RBIs in 50 games. By comparison, cleanup batters are hitting .254 with 7 HRs and 32 RBIs. Of the five homers Arroyo has surrendered, three have been to No. 9 hitters.
Arroyo was actually ahead, 0-and-2, on Newhan before going to a full count.
''I know I'm out of the game if I walk him," said Arroyo, who left a breaking ball over the plate for the homer. ''I threw him four straight fastballs. I thought he'd be at least off the speed a little bit."
The Boston highlight of the night? John Halama.
The lefthander made the most sparkling appearance of his Sox career, pitching a hitless 4 1/3 innings, and striking out three players you've heard of (Sammy Sosa, Brian Roberts, and Mora).
''We need to win, especially against a team like Baltimore," said Johnny Damon, who lifted his average to .353 with two hits. ''They're the team we're trying to catch. Right now is a good time to make up ground. Obviously, tonight we lost ground."
This doesn't get any easier. Last night marked the beginning of three straight series -- 10 consecutive games -- against division-leading teams: the Orioles, Angels, and Cardinals.