BOSTON, AUG. 20 -- The American League East's pennant race by attrition sank to almost offensive homeliness tonight in Fenway Park. The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox mucked through an ugly 3 hours 18 minutes that included 15 walks and 298 pitches -- mostly poor ones. The Red Sox won, 2-1.

The Orioles are now eight games in arrears of the first-place Red Sox, who moved a game ahead of Toronto, a loser in New York.

Each team was held to four hits, but mostly because swinging the bat was an unwise venture. Boston outwalked the Orioles, 8-7, and outscored them by virtue of an eighth-inning uprising that turned on a pair of plays in which Baltimore pitchers were slow to cover first base.

The inning began with Carlos Quintana's check-swing looper that rookie first baseman David Segui flubbed as he reached up to catch -- a play charitably scored a base hit. Still thinking he could get the out at first, Segui pounced on the stray ball, pivoted and threw -- to an uncovered bag, for pitcher Pete Harnisch was suffering from self-described "leg lock."

The throwing error put Quintana at second base. Orioles Manager Frank Robinson brought in Jeff Ballard to face Wade Boggs, who was four for seven this season (and 10 for 22 lifetime) off the Baltimore left-hander. Ballard induced Boggs to bounce directly at Segui, but the pitcher was late covering first and Boggs too had an infield hit.

Ellis Burks followed with a sacrifice fly to medium-deep right field, and the appropriately sloppy touches were put on this odd and aesthetically unsatisfying evening before a crowd of 35,060.

Of Quintana's nubber, Harnisch said: "Off the bat, I thought, 'Damn, it's a hit.' It seemed like he just got enough of it to get to the outfield. Then I looked over {at Segui} and said, 'Oh, he got it.'

"I just lock-legged it. It's never happened to me before. When I see that ball off the bat, I'm not thinking cover. I just locked."

Segui took the blame for the play. "There's no excuses for it," he said. "I screwed up." But Robinson was less eager to assign the guilt to his first baseman, saying Segui made an instinct play and could have hoped to get an out only by throwing blindly to a base he had to assume would be covered.

Robinson faulted Ballard on the Boggs hit, but finally could just shrug and assign this night to the already cumbersome pile of potential victories the Orioles let slip away through a lack of timely hitting.

"It's been our problem all year, driving in runs," he said. "It's no more {frustrating} than a lot of games we've had this year."

It was stranger than most. Red Sox starter Greg Harris improved to 10-5 by surrendering just three hits over eight innings. But he walked seven and faced a remarkable 13 three-ball counts.

New Red Sox closer Jeff Gray worked the ninth for his fourth save.

Harnisch was even more ragged, despite allowing only three hits. He labored through 134 pitches over seven innings and walked a career-high eight batters.

The Orioles came for a crossroads series whispering words like "crucial" and "sweep" (as in: they needed one and they knew it); they left the ballpark shaking their heads with exasperation about this first of 13 games they have against AL East front-runners Boston and Toronto down the stretch run that just commenced.

The Orioles' defeat was their 10th in 14 games and dropped them to 57-63. They've lost 21 of their last 24 Fenway games. Boston improved to 65-55, including an AL-best 38-20 at home.

But it was far from pretty. Even these clubs' leading free swingers -- Baltimore's Mike Devereaux, who entered tonight with 16 walks in 249 at-bats, and Boston's Tony Pena, with 23 free passes in 365 previous at-bats -- couldn't avoid the mound sloppiness. They walked three times apiece.

"I can't remember the last time I walked three times," said Pena, who had done so twice before. "I just decided, 'Why not?'"

This was Harnisch's fifth bid for his 10th victory in what has been a downward-spiraling season. He has two wins in his last 10 outings, although he has been reasonably effective in his past three turns.

He has yielded 15 walks in his last two starts, but he insisted again tonight he had good command. Most baffling, he said, was the slider he often tried to throw on 1-1 and 2-1 counts, usually missing by inches. "Then it's 3-1, and they're just taking until I can hit the strike zone," he said. "And I couldn't."

He misfired by large margins tonight, but he continued his recent penchant for freeing himself from jams. And Harris's performance followed a similar script. Harnisch threw 130 pitches through seven innings, while Harris labored through 128. Yet the score was 1-1, and each run had come via a hitless inning with a run-scoring groundout.

The Orioles, who've scored 12 runs in their last seven games, had a chance to draw first blood in the second inning. But Harris escaped a one-out, second-and-third predicament with strikeouts of Sam Horn and Mickey Tettleton, who has one RBI in the past month.

Harnisch (9-8) twice walked the bases loaded for Boggs before the Red Sox finally scored. Harnisch escaped the first of those when Boggs -- six for eight with the bases loaded entering the game -- lined to shortstop Cal Ripken to end the third. Harnisch got Boggs on a check-swing roller to Ripken in the fifth, but the forceout nevertheless produced a 1-1 tie.

Baltimore had grabbed a 1-0 advantage an inning earlier. Devereaux drew the second of his walks, then stole second and came around on groundouts by Craig Worthington and Segui.