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Starting points

Clement spins gem as Orioles blanked again

BALTIMORE -- Last night should be about last night, because it was something amazing, but Terry Francona got it right when asked to contextualize the august performance submitted by Matt Clement.

"It's exciting to win a 1-0 game," Francona said following Clement's eight-inning, seven-strikeout, one-walk gem that shaved his ERA to 2.13. "But looking down the road, that's more exciting. As that game got tougher, he started to fire it."

Sox starters, in their last seven games, have a combined ERA of 1.13 (48 innings, six earned runs). That's "wow" stuff. Clement, along with David Wells, combined to pitch 16 shutout innings the last two nights, helping limit a Baltimore team hitting a major league-best .295 before this two-game series to a .190 clip (12 for 63).

The other man on the mound was every bit as good as Clement before 40,419 at Camden Yards.

"Rodrigo Lopez," Francona said, "is as tough on us as any pitcher in the league."

Lopez went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA vs. the Sox last season, and for eight innings last night he and Clement were locked into the rarest of American League sightings: a real pitchers' duel. By night's end, each had thrown 110 pitches, each had gone eight innings, and neither had allowed an earned run.

Ramon Vazquez, playing in place of an ill Bill Mueller, knocked in the only run in the second inning with some good old National League baseball. With Kevin Millar on third (double), Jason Varitek on second (single, error on Miguel Tejada), and one out, Vazquez hit the ball to the right side of the infield, scoring Millar.

After that it was all Lopez and Clement. Lopez fanned six, all looking, including Manny Ramirez twice. In the third, Ramirez looked at a fastball on the inside corner. He had words for plate umpire Bill Welke and pointed to the plate with one hand, then the other hand. In the eighth, Ramirez looked at a fastball down the middle that crossed the plate at his kneecap. He pointed at the plate again, and Welke stared Ramirez halfway back to the dugout.

Lopez did nothing to help the slumping David Ortiz and Edgar Renteria. Ortiz, with a man aboard and two outs in the eighth, flied to right, where Sammy Sosa made a leaping catch against the high wall. Ortiz is 5 for his last 38 (.132) over the last 10 games.

"No pop," Ortiz said. "My power is not there."

Renteria doesn't have a hit since the start of the Boston Marathon. Since his third-inning double Monday against the Blue Jays, the new shortstop is 0 for 15 with one walk. His ninth-inning fly to right, where Sosa made a diving catch, lowered his average to .203. He's hitting .125 (4 for 32) on the road.

The good news? None of that mattered last night. Baltimore leadoff man Brian Roberts began the series in the top two in the AL in average, home runs, RBIs, runs, hits, and total bases. Yet, in this two-game series, he reached base only once: He was 0 for 7 with one walk and three strikeouts. Clement accounted for the whiffs, a strikeout looking to begin the game on a cutter away, a whiff swinging on a cutter away in the third, and another strikeout looking in the eighth.

Clement has become mentally stronger in each of his four starts, evident in how he's attacked hitters and how he's talked about his starts. He's gotten ahead of the opposition. Through two starts, he'd thrown just 55 percent of his pitches for strikes. In the two starts since, he's thrown 69 percent for strikes. He struck out 10 and walked eight through two starts. Since, he's struck out 13 and walked three.

"I had it in spring training," he said. "I probably got a little excited being with a new team."

He was never in genuine trouble last night, and he was helped by Renteria's stellar fielding and a sharp defensive play in the fourth inning. Rafael Palmeiro reached with one out in the fourth on a check-swing single to third base, and with two outs, Jay Gibbons doubled to right. Palmeiro, bad knees and all, was barreling home.

Trot Nixon threw to Kevin Millar, who relayed home. The relay was a bit up the first base line, but Jason Varitek reached for it, spun, and lurched at Palmeiro's left foot, which was just sliding across the plate. Palmeiro appeared to have his toe in there, but he was called out. He came up hopping mad, bouncing five or six times out of frustration.

Clement's defining moment came in the eighth, when he recorded two outs, then allowed infield singles to Melvin Mora and Tejada. That brought up Sosa, Clement's teammate the previous three seasons with the Cubs.

Clement fell behind, 2 and 0, then watched as Sosa took one of those full-body Gary Sheffield swings and came up empty. Clement went to a cutter inside on 2 and 1, and the pitch got a little too much of the plate. Still, Sosa grounded it back to the mound, and Clement flipped to Millar for the out. "That's what happens when you're aggressive through the zone," Varitek said. "You can get away with stuff over the plate."

Clement then handed it to Keith Foulke, who before last night was allowing almost two base runners per inning (15 in eight innings). With one out in the ninth, Javy Lopez roped a Foulke slider to the left-field wall for a double.

Foulke then retired Gibbons and pinch hitter B.J. Surhoff on fly outs.

"I threw the ball with much more conviction," Foulke said.

A theme, it seems.

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