Red Sox 7, Orioles 6

After a second consecutive heartbreaking loss to the mighty Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli gathered his group of plucky players not to chastise them, but to thank them. While the sting of the losses would likely hurt late into the night, Mazzilli urged his players to sleep comfortably. They had earned some rest, and most important, some respect.

"You should be proud," Mazzilli told them after the Orioles' 7-6 loss. "Hold your heads up high."

Orlando Cabrera's 12th-inning home run off Rick Bauer ended the second consecutive thriller between the teams. On consecutive nights, the Red Sox beat the Orioles in their last at-bat. On Tuesday, Mark Bellhorn's ninth-inning single sent the Orioles to a disappointing loss. While that defeat seemed to deflate Mazzilli, whose chin lowered to his chest after the game, Wednesday's effort picked up his spirits. Though not excited, Mazzilli praised his team.

"We battled this team who we weren't supposed to be able to play against," Mazzilli said. "They're supposed to be one of the best teams and we play hard against them. I'm proud of my guys, man. They did a hell of a job tonight. We just came up a little short."

While the Orioles of recent memory have faded in September, these Orioles refuse to go quietly. In the past two weeks, they've gotten the attention of the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and the Red Sox, all probable playoff teams.

"That's why I feel we're real close from doing some big things," Mazzilli said.

"We're not the pushovers we used to be," Jay Gibbons said.

Wednesday's game was sent into extra innings with a pinch-hit, ninth-inning home run by Rafael Palmeiro against Boston closer Keith Foulke. Palmeiro, who had been kept out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive game because of a sore hamstring, moved past Mike Schmidt and into 10th place on the all-time home run list with 549 career home runs.

"It's a great honor and a great feeling," Palmeiro said. "I never thought I'd be in the top 10 when I started."

In the past three days, the Orioles have not appeared one bit intimidated by Foulke, who prior to Tuesday had converted 16 consecutive save chances. On Tuesday, Javy Lopez tied the game at 2 against Foulke with a ninth-inning drive over the Green Monster. On Monday, Melvin Mora sent an ever deeper drive over the Monster to provide the Orioles with a comfortable cushion in a game they won by three runs.

On Wednesday, Orioles starter Sidney Ponson pitched seven innings, allowing six runs, including a two-run home run by David Ortiz in the seventh, which gave the Red Sox a 6-5 lead.

Three relievers followed Ponson and delivered three scoreless innings before Bauer allowed the home run to Cabrera, who missed the first two games of the series while in Colombia tending to his ill wife. The Orioles had the bases loaded in the top of the inning, but a Gibbons double-play grounder ended the threat.

"I kind of got it off the end of the bat," Gibbons said. "It fooled me."

After the game, both Gibbons and Bauer took the blame.

"All the pitchers in the bullpen pitched well," Bauer said. "I ruined it."

Bauer, his long curly locks tumbling toward the ground, could not hold his head up.

Orioles Notes: Mazzilli said the team has decided to give left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan an opportunity to close games, though he has not permanently demoted Jorge Julio from the role. Instead the two will share the closer duties.

Mazzilli, who spoke to both relievers prior to the game, said he believes pitching in the eighth inning could help Julio's confidence. Julio entered the game in the eighth and hit the first batter and walked the second, but did not allow a run. . . . A decision on Julio's appeal of his four-game suspension resulting from a fastball that was judged by the office of the commissioner to be thrown at the head of Minnesota Twins infielder Augie Ojeda on Sept. 7 likely won't come until next week, according to Major League Baseball spokesman Matt Gould. Baseball disciplinarians Bob Watson and John McHale were in St. Louis this week and likely wouldn't be able to meet with Julio until next week in Baltimore. . . . Baltimore executive vice president Jim Beattie called the commissioner's office to inquire about the umpire's decision to inspect Rodrigo Lopez's cap in the Orioles' 3-2 loss on Tuesday. Beattie believes the umpires didn't have just cause. . . . B.J. Surhoff was named the Orioles' recipient of the 2004 Roberto Clemente award.

Orioles starter Sidney Ponson (7 innings, 11 hits, 6 runs) stands on the mound as David Ortiz rounds the bases after his two-run homer in the 7th gave the Red Sox a 6-5 lead at Fenway Park.