Even though his pupil was coming off a two-inning, seven-run loss to Toronto, Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace knew Wade Miller would bounce back against Baltimore last night.
But Wallace probably didn't know just how effective the righthander would be, as even Miller acknowledged that he didn't have his best fastball to start the game. In the third inning of Boston's 5-1 win, when Baltimore could have busted out, Miller allowed a leadoff triple to Jay Gibbons, which was followed by a Sal Fasano double. But Miller forced the next three Orioles to ground out, keeping Baltimore's 3-4-5 hitters away from the plate and escaping with only one run allowed.
Miller faced a similar situation in the seventh when Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff hit back-to-back singles to open the inning, but he extinguished the rally with two fly outs and a punchout of David Newhan, who was caught looking.
''He did a good job of mixing his pitches," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who opened the game with a single that extended his hitting streak to 20 games, but was then picked off by Miller. ''He worked in and out, at different speeds, and threw strikes, and that's usually where you're most successful."
Miller, who gave up six hits against Toronto last Thursday while walking three, threw his first bullpen session between starts as a member of the Red Sox. After all, he threw only 60 pitches against Toronto and thought that his shoulder was ready for a bullpen. He was right.
Miller spotted his fastball on the corners, mixed in his curveball, and saved what he called his best pitch of the game for his last: a back-door slider to Newhan. The pitch, Miller's 108th (and 65th strike), caught the No. 9 hitter off guard. With the strikeout, Miller stranded Palmeiro and Surhoff and set up Mike Timlin and Mike Myers to pitch two perfect innings to close the game.
''He made a really good pitch," Newhan said. ''I wasn't looking for any particular pitch with two strikes. I thought it might have been a little bit outside, but it came back at the last second and was able to catch a corner."
For the first four innings, Miller had to be as sharp. When he was sitting in the dugout, his counterpart, Daniel Cabrera, was pitching a lights-out game. Cabrera walked David Ortiz and Trot Nixon in the first inning and allowed Jay Payton to reach in the second when he threw away a grounder to the mound. But he was perfect otherwise: two strikeouts, seven ground-ball outs, no hits allowed.
But in the fifth inning, the Red Sox bats finally got to Cabrera. A double and four singles later, Cabrera was facing a 4-1 deficit -- which Miller was determined not to waste. In the next half-inning, Miller quickly sent Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, and Sammy Sosa back to the dugout.
''It was nice to see that when we scored, he went back out there with a renewed vengeance," manager Terry Francona said. ''He really got strong. That was good to see."
Miller (five hits, one earned run, three walks, three strikeouts) also got some help from his defense. In the fourth inning, John Olerud started a 3-6 double play. Nixon made a sliding catch of a Gibbons liner in the fifth. And in the seventh, Payton kept Palmeiro, who had led off the inning with a single to center field, from scoring from third when he caught Fasano's drive and fired a one-hopper to home plate.
It was up to Miller, however, to take care of Newhan, the next hitter after Fasano. After nearly chucking an 0-and-2 riser over Jason Varitek, Miller calmed down and fooled Newhan with his final pitch of the game.
''I feel good," Miller said. ''This is the best I've felt since coming back."