When Red Sox medical director Thomas Gill sat down a bleeding and contused Johnny Damon inside the clubhouse during last night's game, Gill spoke four words to Damon: blue, plane, tree, and grass. Ten minutes later, Gill, approached Damon, asking for a verbal recital, to check for concussion clues. Damon repeated the words.
''So," he proclaimed, ''I still know those."
His teammates, even without their center fielder, who had four stitches above his right eyelid, and a banged-up right knee, proved last night that they still can string together baseball's four key words -- throw, catch, hit, and run -- in the same game.
Wade Miller exemplified the completeness of last night's team effort, delivering seven innings and limiting baseball's best-hitting club (.287) to a single run on five hits in a 5-1 win. The victory, before a full house of 35,147 in the Fens, pulled the Sox back within three games of the division-leading Orioles. Boston went 16-12 in May, as did the Orioles, though the Sox finished the month winning three of four while Baltimore has lost four of five.
Miller's economical evening was well-timed, for both the pitcher himself and the team. With Curt Schilling wondering aloud whether he'll ever be the Schilling of old, Tim Wakefield posting a 6.38 ERA his last six starts, Bronson Arroyo suddenly struggling, and David Wells completely unpredictable, the Sox are in need of someone to join Matt Clement as a regular force atop the rotation.
Will it be Miller? Last night, as he skipped off the mound at the end of the seventh, having painted the outside corner with a slider to David Newhan with two on and two out, he displayed the precision and presence of someone capable of such excellence.
The Sox trailed in this game, 1-0, after four innings before erupting for four in the fifth, and once they did, Miller's manager sensed an uptick in the righthander's resolve.
''It was nice to see when we scored he went out there with what was almost renewed vengeance," Terry Francona said.
The look, Francona said, conveyed: ''You're not going to score."
And Baltimore didn't. The Orioles pushed across just the lone run in the third. Jay Gibbons hit a leadoff triple to the triangle -- the ball on which Damon was hurt, running into the bullpen fence -- and catcher Sal Fasano followed with an RBI double on a hanging curveball. That was it.
Sammy Sosa came close to taking Miller out of the park in the second inning, but Damon reeled it in against the wall in the triangle. Sosa had started his celebratory hop -- not a full-fledged hop, just a skip, really -- but Jason Varitek, on a 53-degree night, knew better.
''I turned to Kerwin [Danley, the home plate umpire] and said, 'Not tonight,' " Varitek said.
This was an important night for Miller, whose velocity was topping out at 87-89 in his previous start, Thursday at Toronto, when he lasted just two innings, his shortest start since 2003. But he was back at 91-92 last night.
''He had a more consistent arm slot," Varitek said. ''He had good arm speed. You go through those things were sometimes you're not as strong."
Last night he was, and so, too, was Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, who no-hit the Sox for 4 1/3 innings. The righthander was routinely unleashing fastballs at 96-97 miles per hour, and though he's known for not knowing where his smoke signals are going, Cabrera couldn't have been much sharper early, effectively mixing his fastball and slider.
''It's not too often you see 6-foot-8 throwing 97 miles per hour," Varitek said.
But by the fifth the Sox were on to the 24-year-old. Mark Bellhorn broke up the no-hit bid, and that would be the beginning of the end for Cabrera. Beginning with Bellhorn, he allowed six hits to the next 10 batters.
By the time it was done, the Sox had singled Baltimore to death, scoring five runs on eight hits, seven of them singles. John Olerud delivered the only extra-base hit, a run-scoring double in the middle of the four-run fifth. Olerud didn't start last night but found himself in the game when Damon exited in the middle of the third. Olerud hit for Damon and played first base. Kevin Millar, in the game at first, moved to left field. And Jay Payton, who started in left, shifted to center.
Damon actually was due up to begin the bottom of the third, when Francona turned to Olerud to ask him to bat.
''You ever hit leadoff?" Francona asked Olerud.
Olerud's response: ''No, never."
He grounded out in that at-bat then in the third but doubled in Payton in the fifth, tying the game at 1-1. Olerud finished the night 1 for 3, putting his average at .429 (6 for 14). Edgar Renteria and David Ortiz followed Olerud's at-bat with run-scoring singles, and Trot Nixon made it 4-1 Sox with an RBI ground out.
Renteria crossed the plate again in the seventh to make it 5-1 on a Varitek sacrifice fly.
Miller left after 108 pitches, giving way to the Mikes (Timlin and Myers). Timlin, who pitched the eighth and one out into the ninth, went through the Orioles' 1-4 hitters -- Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, and Sosa -- in just 11 pitches. Myers ended it by retiring two lefties, Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff. Both grounded back to the mound.