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O's Julio saves best for last Sox out, 5-3

BOSTON — BOSTON - When it was over yesterday, and Nomar Garciaparra had retreated to his dugout beneath the din of disappointment at Fenway Park, Orioles closer Jorge Julio had the American League saves lead and a moment he could dedicate to his dad.

"He took me to the stadium when I was younger," Julio said, speaking of a Venezuelan father who passed away 10 years ago this weekend. "This one is for him."

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Julio has a pretty stoic demeanor, but this was an emotional afternoon for him, and his teammates understood after seeing the end of the Orioles' 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

After walking the bases loaded, Julio found himself trapped in the middle of a pitcher's worst nightmare: Ninth inning, two outs, Boston's sellout crowd on its feet, and shouts of "Let's go, Nomah!" echoing in the summer air.

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"I don't even know if it gets more dramatic than that," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, whose team won three of four games in the series, leaving Boston clinging to a one-game lead in the AL wild-card race.

The Orioles had built a 5-1 margin in the sixth inning against Red Sox starter Jeff Suppan (0-1) on the strength of four big hits by Jay Gibbons and Jack Cust. Gibbons doubled home a run in the first inning, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, and added a run-scoring triple in the sixth.

Cust hit his second home run in four days - a two-run shot over the Green Monster in the sixth - after doubling home a run in the fourth.

Jason Johnson (10-5), who matched his career high for wins, made it through the sixth inning after Orioles trainer Richie Bancells paid a visit to the mound to check on his sore left leg.

Johnson had injured himself fielding a sharp comebacker from Bill Mueller with one out in the first inning. By the sixth, Johnson said, it started affecting his pitches as he planted on the leg with each throwing motion. Hargrove went out to check on Johnson but kept him in the game.

"I said, 'Let me have one more hitter,'" Johnson said. "I said, 'I can get this guy out. Once I get him out, I'll have six innings. And you can take me out, and it'll just be three innings for the bullpen to pitch.'"

Johnson left after throwing 90 pitches and later watched Julio's heroics from the clubhouse television. First, Jason Varitek hit a home run off Orioles reliever Buddy Groom in the seventh, making it 5-3.

Kerry Ligtenberg and B.J. Ryan pitched the Orioles through the eighth, and Julio went to the mound for the ninth, trying to earn his 29th save in 35 opportunities. He came into the game tied for the league lead in saves with the Oakland Athletics' Keith Foulke.

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But Trot Nixon started the inning with a six-pitch walk, and Todd Walker hit a ball that Gibbons lost in the sun before recovering to make the catch on the right-field warning track.

At that point, the Fenway crowd sensed it had Julio on the ropes. He walked Varitek on four pitches, and the fans rose to their feet.

Johnny Damon quieted the frenzy, popping to shortstop for the second out, but then Julio walked Mueller with a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases.

Up stepped Garciaparra, who is batting .324 with 22 homers and 82 RBIs.

"I don't care, whatever batter it is - Nomar, Manny [Ramirez, standing on-deck]," Julio said. "I'm not scared of nobody."

Julio threw two fastballs to Garciaparra and quickly fell behind, 2-0. Then he threw a 98-mph fastball on the outside corner for strike one.

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"I don't know the last time I saw Nomar Garciaparra take a 2-0 pitch," Hargrove said.

Garciaparra likes to swing, and he fouled off Julio's next four pitches in this sequence: 97-mph fastball, 86-mph slider, 100-mph fastball and 99-mph fastball.

The crowd had to exhale with each one. Pitching coach Mark Wiley thought the first slider was the key to the whole at-bat.

"Garciaparra's one of the best hitters in baseball," Wiley said. "Now he's gotta worry about two speeds."

On the eighth pitch, after throwing two fastballs, Julio came back to the slider. The 86-mph pitch hung in the air for a millisecond and dived, bouncing near the plate.

Garciaparra swung and missed, and Orioles catcher Robert Machado, who made a nice play to smother the ball, stepped on home plate, securing the win.

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"He just made a good pitch," Garciaparra said. "He's a good closer for a reason."

Wiley, who has guided Julio's development during the past three years, saw the 24-year-old take another step.

"The No. 1 thing for a closer is you can't be afraid," Wiley said. "And if that doesn't show you he's not afraid ... "

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

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Time: 7:15

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Pat Hentgen (4-6, 4.68) vs. Devil Rays' Joe Kennedy (3-9, 6.47)


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