BOSTON - Say goodbye to charter flights and hotel living. Bid farewell to hostile environments, at least until most of New England pours into Camden Yards for the season's last four games. The Orioles are coming off the road for good, and they're leaving behind a little reminder of their competitive streak.
It ran right through the Boston Red Sox last night, just as wide as the gap that again separates them from the team they're chasing for a division title.
Sent up to pinch hit for Jay Gibbons in the eighth inning with two outs, the bases loaded and the score tied, Jose Leon responded with a two-run single off reliever Mike Myers that gave the Orioles their final lead in a 9-7 victory before 35,026 at Fenway Park.
Leon clapped his hands repeatedly after reaching second base on the throw, seemingly the only person in the stadium who broke into applause.
"It's tough in that situation, but at the same time I've got to be prepared for that," he said. "That's been my role lately."
"I've been through that as a player," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You wait around all game, and you've got to come up in a key spot."
The Orioles scored twice more in the ninth against Byung-Hyun Kim, but Boston strung together four straight singles with two outs in the bottom half, the last by Manny Ramirez bringing in two runs.
No longer in a setup role, B.J. Ryan stranded two runners by retiring David Ortiz on a deep fly ball to right.
"I wasn't too sure he got all of it, but with him you never know," Mazzilli said. "It stayed in. That's all that counts."
"Well," Ryan said, "I started out good."
The Orioles finished that way, going 6-4 on their final trip and 40-41 away from Baltimore - their best road record since 1997. Eleven games remain in the season, including those last four against the Red Sox, who needed two walk-off wins just to gain a split in this series.
"These four games were a good learning tool for them in the future, what it's like," Mazzilli said. "For me, they came through with flying colors."
Miguel Tejada hit his 30th homer, a three-run shot off Red Sox starter Derek Lowe in the fifth inning that gave the Orioles a short-lived 5-2 lead. Melvin Mora had two hits and two RBIs in the first three innings, twice putting the Orioles ahead before Tejada did the same. Mora won't catch Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki in the American League batting race, but he continues to hold down second place while crafting one of the finest seasons in club history.
Has the left side of the Orioles' infield ever looked so good?
Tejada's 134 RBIs are three more than he totaled in 2002 as the AL's Most Valuable Player. He's nine away from breaking Rafael Palmeiro's club record for a single season.
Tejada sprinted to the mound after Daniel Cabrera fell behind Kevin Millar 2-0 in the fifth inning. The rookie had walked in a run and the bases still were loaded with two outs, but the conference didn't settle him down. Millar singled off the Green Monster to tie the game at 5 and bring a pitching change.
Like Matt Riley two nights earlier, Cabrera fell an out short of completing five innings, and Mazzilli again had to shuffle his relievers. He kept turning up the right cards, beginning with John Parrish, who struck out all four batters he faced.
"That's why this is a great game," Mazzilli said. "You put your best people in the best possible spots to succeed."
Before the first pitch, the Red Sox already knew they had to win or else lose ground to the New York Yankees, who posted an afternoon victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a hurricane-related makeup game.
The score was etched on the Green Monster, the numbers frozen, almost taunting them. As if the Red Sox needed any more reminders that the Yankees were coming to town this weekend, and that expectations might have to be lowered to the AL wild card.
"It's like a postseason, World Series atmosphere here," said Javy Lopez. "It makes you play better."
Palmeiro was out of the lineup for a third straight game because of a strained right hamstring, but Mazzilli is aiming for a return tonight. In the meantime, Palmeiro has been a useful guide on the bench.
"We've been talking a lot about hitting," Leon said.
In Palmeiro's absence, Brian Roberts achieved the latest milestone for the Orioles. His double in the first inning was his 48th, breaking Cal Ripken's single-season team record. Roberts already holds the record for most doubles by a switch-hitter.
Roberts began a stretch of three consecutive hits in the inning, with Mora's bloop single into center field giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
It didn't last long - so typical of this series.
"Wins are always good," Lopez said. "It doesn't matter where or how."