Red Sox 8, Orioles 3

The loudest voice of reason came from the slightest Baltimore starter, second baseman Brian Roberts, who with a quiet but authoritative voice stated that a season's worth would not be determined by the season's final series here against the Boston Red Sox.

For Roberts, the .500 record that could have come by sweeping the Red Sox was simply a nice round number for statisticians. Roberts believed that no matter what the Orioles' final record is, their ascent had begun.

An 8-3 loss by the Orioles to the Red Sox tonight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards assured Baltimore of its seventh consecutive losing season.

"It was a good goal," Roberts said.

"But in the grand scheme of things, when we report to spring training next year does it change anything? No. I think the biggest key to the year was getting better. I think we made huge strides. Everybody would say that."

With .500 still within reach entering the ninth inning, a five-run rally by the Red Sox -- punctuated by David Ortiz's 41st home run, a 415-foot three-run drive -- against relievers Jorge Julio and John Parrish turned a close game into a rout.

"It was a hell of a run to .500, I'm proud of the way we played," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said.

"Come next year when they play the Orioles, they will have their hands full."

The Orioles had pounded Boston starter Tim Wakefield last week. Wakefield allowed seven earned runs in 41/3 innings in a 9-6 loss. After that start the Boston pitcher met with one of the deans of knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, who appeared to have corrected Wakefield's signature pitch. In his next start, Wakefield allowed just three earned runs in 61/3 innings against the Yankees.

Tonight, Wakefield's knuckleball moved with the fluidity of a break dancer. The Orioles took meek swings and barely managed any success, only two hits through the first four innings; neither runner reached second base. But in the fourth, the baseball appeared to stop dancing.

With two outs, Wakefield allowed a single to Jay Gibbons, who advanced to third base on a wild pitch and a passed ball as catcher Doug Mirabelli could not keep up, then walked Larry Bigbie. Roberts followed with single that tied the game at 1.

In the sixth, Wakefield allowed a one-out single to Miguel Tejada, who advanced to second on the second passed ball by Mirabelli. After a walk to B.J. Surhoff, Geronimo Gil singled to left field to put the Orioles ahead 2-1. Wakefield pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits.

For some reason, one even he can't explain, Rodrigo Lopez has kept a powerful Boston offense quiet the entire season. In the three starts against the Red Sox prior to Friday, Lopez had allowed just three runs in 181/3 innings and added another 62/3 scoreless innings of relief in three appearances against Boston.

On Friday, Lopez allowed a solo home run to Johnny Damon in the third, but appeared headed for another stellar outing against the Red Sox. But in the seventh Lopez lost a 2-1 lead when he allowed a walk to Orlando Cabrera and a single to Bill Mueller with one out.

Reliever Jason Grimsley entered and gave up run-scoring singles to Mirabelli and Mark Bellhorn to put the Red Sox ahead 3-2.

Orioles Notes: Javy Lopez was kept out of the starting lineup because of a sore left foot, which he injured on a foul ball on Thursday. But Lopez's foot felt well enough to pinch hit in the eighth inning against Mike Timlin. Lopez flied out but remained in the game and caught the ninth inning. Lopez said he'd like to catch at least one of the two games today and DH the other . . .

Barring a last-minute change of heart, Rick Bauer will start Sunday's season finale. In Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader, Bauer pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while striking out seven . . .

The Red Sox announced Bronson Arroyo will start the first game of today's doubleheader, and Pedro Astacio will start Game 2. Boston has not yet decided on a starter for Sunday.