In a weekend of near no-hitters only Boston's Derek Lowe
finished the job

After Pedro Martinez held the Orioles hitless for 5 2/3 innings
last Thursday and ended up allowing a single over seven, he
offered his take on pitching a no-no. "I'm an experienced guy,
and I know the day a no-hitter comes, it will just happen," he
said. "I'm not going to go look for it."

If it was hard to believe then that the incomparable Martinez
didn't have one on his resume (the nine perfect innings he fired
at the Padres in 1995 don't count because he allowed a double in
the 10th), it seemed preposterous after a weekend during which
no-hit bids were as ubiquitous as low-slung jeans at a Christina
Aguilera concert.

On Saturday righthander Derek Lowe, making just his eighth start
for the Red Sox since losing his job as closer last September,
allowed the Devil Rays only a third-inning walk for the first
no-hitter at Fenway Park since Dave Morehead stymied the Indians
in 1965. "I knew it was going to be a long day, because he had
unbelievable movement on his sinker," said Tampa Bay second
baseman Brent Abernathy, who drew the walk.

It wasn't the only Lowe-hit game in a weekend series. On Friday,
Dodgers lefthander Odalis Perez came within a bad-hop,
seventh-inning infield single of throwing a perfect game against
the Cubs at Wrigley Field. That night, at Shea Stadium, Mets
lefthander Shawn Estes set down the first 18 Brewers he faced
before giving up a leadoff single in the seventh. On Saturday
afternoon Estes's teammate, righthander Pedro Astacio, teased New
York fans--no Met had pitched a no-hitter in the franchise's
6,367-game history through Sunday--by not allowing a hit until
there was one out in the seventh. And that night in Seattle,
Yankees lefthander Ted Lilly came within five outs of making
April 27, 2002, the second day in major league history with two
no-hitters; the only base hit was an RBI single by Desi Relaford
in the eighth inning.

What gives? Astrology, for one thing. No day has had more
no-hitters than April 27 (five). There's also the overall
downturn in offensive output. In April 2000 the major league
average was 18.63 hits per game; last April the rate dropped to
17.74, and through Sunday it had fallen to 17.56.

It also helps to be facing a bad-hitting team. The Devil Rays'
.242 batting average was the third lowest in the American League,
and no team in the majors had less punch on the road (.195). The
Brewers finished the weekend with the lowest team average (.235)
in the majors. The Cubs' .240 mark was the NL's third worst.

The opponent might not have mattered to Lowe, who also pitched
seven hitless innings against the Orioles in his first start of
this season, on April 5. Since returning to the starter's role he
relinquished four years ago, he has been electric in going 5-1
with a 1.75 ERA. Known for his heavy sinker and a sharp breaking
ball, Lowe has reintroduced a changeup that he shelved upon
moving to the bullpen. That's what he threw to get the Devil
Rays' final out, a weak grounder to second. "The speed variations
were the difference," said Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae. "He'd
throw a slider, throw another slider, then throw a changeup. He
kept guys off-balance."

L.A.'s New Sensation
Rookie Ishii off to 5-0 Start

The Dodgers' Kazuhisa Ishii is making an early run at Rookie of
the Year, but that was no rookie move he pulled during his start
against the Cubs on Sunday. Ishii tiptoed in and out of trouble,
allowing a run and six base runners in the first three innings.
When he came out for the fourth, the lefthander scrapped his
windup and began pitching from the stretch, even with the bases

Sure enough, Ishii settled down and retired 11 of the next 12,
striking out eight in seven innings as Los Angeles held on for a
5-4 victory. The win made Ishii 5-0, the best start by a Dodgers
rookie since Fernando Valenzuela went 8-0 in 1981. This is why
the Dodgers paid $11.26 million for the right to negotiate with
the 28-year-old Japanese import and then signed him to a
four-year, $12.3 million contract last February.

Sunday's outing was a typical Ishii performance, as he alternated
between dominance and ineffectiveness. After struggling with his
control during the spring, Ishii struck out 10 Rockies in his
major league debut last month; in his two starts before Sunday,
however, he allowed nine runs and 15 hits and issued seven walks
in 11 innings. He won those starts, though, wriggling out of
trouble in both games and taking advantage of ample run support
(6.4 per game this season). "He's either pretty good or pretty
lucky," says teammate Brian Jordan.

Third Manager Fired
The Bell Tolls for Buddy Bell

"If you fire anybody," lefthander Mike Hampton said after Rockies
skipper Buddy Bell was axed last Friday, "you should have fired
me." That was the guilt talking, but it's about all that players
can offer in the way of accountability for a team's early-season
collapse. As was the case with the Tigers and the Brewers, who
had already cut loose their managers this year, Colorado's
players deserve at least as much of the blame for the team's 6-16
start under Bell as the former manager does. Hampton, who has
been a bust since he signed a $121 million contract before last
season, is 0-3 with an 8.88 ERA.

By letting Bell go last week, Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd
was sending a message that he's still trying to win this
year--even if the team on the field looks as if it has thrown in
the towel. A club may not be in the running for a playoff spot,
but it had better appear to be headed in that direction.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: NEAL HAMBERG/APLowe struck out six and upped his record to 4-1 in pitching the first no-hitter in Fenway Park in 37 years. COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES Though Ishii has been wild at times, the southpaw has shown the ability to bear down when in trouble.

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