Orioles 2, Red Sox 1

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BALTIMORE (AP)—Enjoying his finest performance in years, Pat Hentgen looked far more like a former Cy Young award winner than a pitcher who underwent elbow surgery just 24 months earlier.

The right-hander also showed why he would have been a fine acquisition for a contender in need of pitching help for the stretch drive.

Hentgen took a three-hitter into the ninth inning before allowing a leadoff homer to Johnny Damon, and the Baltimore Orioles held on to defeat the Boston Red Sox 2-1 Friday night.

Tony Batista and Brook Fordyce hit run-scoring singles for the Orioles, who improved to 3-3 against Boston this season.

Vying for his first shutout since 2000, Hentgen was lifted after Damon connected. Jorge Julio then got three straight outs to complete the four-hitter and earn his 25th save.

Though denied his first complete game since 2001, Hentgen (4-5) had absolutely no complaints.

“It’s been a long time since I had a CG and a shutout, so going into the ninth inning it was exciting, especially in our hometown,” he said.

But when Damon sent a 1-0 pitch over the scoreboard in right field, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove went to the bullpen.

“I thought it was the right move. He gave me a shot at it, and I just couldn’t finish the ninth,” Hentgen said.

Hentgen, who won the 1996 Cy Young award with the Toronto Blue Jays, was rumored to be headed out of Baltimore before Thursday’s non-waiver deadline. But he stayed put, much to Hargrove’s delight.

“I would say that’s obviously the best game that he’s thrown as an Oriole,” Hargrove said.

Hentgen was 2-3 with Baltimore before undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery in August 2001.

“I don’t even consider it an issue anymore. It’s like it never happened,” Hentgen said.

Before Damon’s homer, Hentgen (4-5) allowed only one runner past first base. The right-hander was 9-10 with a 6.81 ERA in 27 career games against Boston.

“I think that’s the best we’ve seen him in a couple of years since he had that surgery,” Boston manager Grady Little said. “He’s certainly real close to getting back to where he was earlier in his career. When the stuff is there, you have quite a competitor. He was tough out there tonight.”

Two of Boston’s hits came in the third inning, when Jason Varitek hit a leadoff single and took second on a two-out single by Damon. But Hentgen struck out Todd Walker to end the threat.

After that, Boston had only two baserunners until the ninth.

“He was throwing the ball really good. Very impressive,” losing pitcher John Burkett said. “Like the old Pat Hentgen.”

Burkett (8-5) gave up two runs and eight hits in seven innings for the Red Sox. He had won two straight and five of his last six decisions.

“I was happy with it. I feel like I’m getting stronger as the season goes on, which is a very nice feeling—especially for someone my age,” said Burkett, 38. “I’m really encouraged by how I feel; tonight was probably the strongest I’ve felt in a long time.”

But he wasn’t good enough to top Hentgen, who won his third straight start.

The Red Sox, who lost their third straight, came in leading the majors with a .294 batting average.

Burkett kept the Orioles hitless until Luis Matos led off the fourth inning with a single. He was erased on a double play, but Jay Gibbons followed with an opposite-field double to left and Batista blooped an RBI single to center.

In the sixth, Jeff Conine hit a one-out double and took third on a single by Gibbons before Batista hit into a 1-6-3 double play.

But Baltimore made it 2-0 in the seventh when Jeff Conine hit a leadoff double and scored on a single by Fordyce.

Newly acquired Scott Williamson worked a scoreless eighth for Boston.

Notes

The Red Sox optioned RHP Jason Shiell to Triple-A Pawtucket to make room for Williamson, who joined the club in Baltimore after being acquired from Cincinnati on July 29. … Baltimore LF Melvin Mora missed a fourth straightstart with a sore wrist. … Gibbons is 8-for-17 over his last four games.

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