BOSTON - Taking a lead or two against the Boston Red Sox hasn't been a difficult chore for the Orioles. Scoring the tying run in the ninth, in hostile surroundings, almost looks easy, like playing an intrasquad game before a few hundred fans. They are immune to the pressure, almost bored by the routine.
When it comes to finishing the job, however, they are at a loss. Two in a row.
Orlando Cabrera led off the 12th inning with a home run off reliever Rick Bauer, giving the Boston Red Sox a 7-6 victory over the Orioles last night at sold-out Fenway Park.
Held out of the lineup for a second straight game because of a strained hamstring, Rafael Palmeiro led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit home run against Red Sox closer Keith Foulke to tie the score.
Both teams loaded the bases without ending the suspense, with Jay Gibbons grounding into a 3-2-4 double play in the 12th. It was left to Cabrera to clear the Green Monster on a 2-2 pitch from Bauer, who retired the first four batters he faced after entering two innings earlier.
David Ortiz hit a two-run homer off Sidney Ponson in the seventh inning, his 40th of the season, to put Boston ahead 6-5. But Palmeiro found the right-field seats with the count full for his 549th career homer, moving past Mike Schmidt for 10th place on the all-time list.
Foulke has been taken deep in all three games of the series, twice mishandling leads. He had converted 16 save chances in a row before Tuesday.
The Orioles (70-80) won the first game of the series but no longer can hold down the Red Sox, who moved within 3 1/2 games of the New York Yankees in the American League East. The wild card might have to wait.
On a steady decline this month, David Newhan stepped up with a two-run homer off Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo that gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning. Newhan was hitting .179 in 14 games.
Larry Bigbie put the Orioles ahead again, 5-4, with a two-out double off reliever Mike Myers in the sixth. The Red Sox had a play at the plate, but Cabrera dropped Manny Ramirez's throw as Javy Lopez was halfway down the line.
The series took an interesting turn Tuesday when the Red Sox blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth, sending their fans into another panic, before winning on Mark Bellhorn's two-run single.
A subplot developed yesterday when executive vice president Jim Beattie contacted the commissioner's office to check whether Boston manager Terry Francona had the right to request that umpires search pitcher Rodrigo Lopez's cap for a foreign substance.
Lopez carried a shutout into the eighth inning, but he walked the first two batters after being searched and was replaced.
Because Lopez hadn't aroused suspicions in the past, the Orioles viewed the move as a deliberate attempt to rattle Lopez - beyond accepted gamesmanship - and wondered whether the umpires could have refused. Beattie said Major League Baseball is looking into the incident.
Nothing about Ponson's performance last night drew special attention from the Red Sox. They were just glad to have him on the mound given their past success.
Ponson was 2-9 with a 6.67 ERA in 14 career games against them, and 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA in Boston. But he also was 8-2 since the All-Star break, so perhaps this night would be different.
No chance. Ponson was done after allowing six runs and 11 hits over seven innings. Jorge Julio, moved into a setup role, took over in the eighth and stranded two runners.
Newhan's home run didn't hold up for long. Ponson permitted two runs and four hits in the fifth, though he also caught a break that kept Boston from taking the lead. Ramirez drove in a run with a ground-rule double. Ortiz walked and Trot Nixon tied the game at 4 with a single into center field.
Waved home by third base coach Dale Sveum, Ramirez inexplicably held up after rounding the bag as Bigbie's throw went to shortstop Miguel Tejada. Ponson got the next two outs to leave the bases loaded.
Bigbie was a central figure in the rally. He started it by getting a late jump on Bill Mueller's liner to center field, the ball nicking his glove as he turned to reach for it. Mueller was credited with a double.
The Red Sox scored twice in the second inning after loading the bases with none out on three consecutive singles, and it could have been more if Bigbie hadn't made a diving catch.
A double play bailed out Ponson in the fourth after Kevin Millar doubled with one out and Jason Varitek walked. By then, the score was tied at 2. The
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (12-7, 4.51) vs. Red Sox's Derek Lowe (14-12, 5.19)