Orioles 9, Red Sox 3

-- The three home runs flew out of Fenway Park almost three times as fast as the pitches had arrived from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. None of the floaters danced around the strike zone as they are supposed to do, but stayed in the zone just long enough to be crushed over the left field wall by Baltimore's Geronimo Gil, Miguel Tejada and Sammy Sosa.

After the game, a 9-3 Orioles victory over the Boston Red Sox Wednesday night, Wakefield described the knuckleball to Tejada as, "Yuck."

"I never feel comfortable against him," Tejada said. "He's just too tough. We just got lucky. The ball was moving, I just put the bat in the air and the ball hit the bat."

It was another impressive performance by Baltimore's offense, which was without four starters. Three (Larry Bigbie, Luis Matos and Javy Lopez) are on the disabled list and another -- Brian Roberts -- was scratched from the lineup because of a strained right rotator cuff.

"We keep doing well because every time we have a guy come out, the guy who comes in does a good job," said Tejada, who had four hits. "I'm really impressed. It's not only the guys that are stars, it's everybody in the clubhouse. We believe we're a good team. We've had a lot of injuries and we're still a good team."

Three of the replacements played a significant role in the three-run second inning. B.J. Surhoff, playing for Bigbie, walked to start the rally. He advanced to third on a double by Chris Gomez, playing for Roberts. Both scored on the home run by Gil, who played for Lopez. For weeks Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli raved about the depth of his roster. He may be right.

Such a lead made pitcher Sidney Ponson's job much easier. It was a much-needed performance from Ponson, who had not allowed fewer than four runs in a game since May 6. Wednesday night he allowed three unearned runs in 62/3 innings.

"The ball was really moving late," Mazzilli said. "Talking to Geronimo, he said [Ponson's] ball was cutting real late, like just when it got to the plate."

Ponson's slider was his most valuable pitch and he used it often in the early innings. In the fourth, when the first two Boston batters reached base, Ponson went to his cutter and fastball and did not allow a run that inning.

Mazzilli showed patience with Ponson in the seventh inning when the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs. In the bullpen, only Steve Kline warmed up, meaning Mazzilli would have to stick with Ponson against a right-handed batter. After loading the bases, Ponson retired the next two batters, though a run scored on a sacrifice fly. Lefty David Ortiz came to the plate, but Kline remained in the bullpen. Ponson walked Ortiz to load the bases and then allowed a two-run single to Manny Ramirez to narrow the score to 7-3.

After Ramirez's single, Mazzilli finally brought in Kline, who walked Jay Payton. Mazzilli paced to the mound and brought in Todd Williams, who got catcher Kelly Shoppach to ground out and end the inning.

Shoppach was in the game because, with the game at 7-0 in the top of the seventh, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona pulled Jason Varitek, perhaps to save his legs for Thursday's day game.

"I think if I said I regretted it, I'd be wrong," Francona said. "I want [Varitek] to catch [Thursday]. I want him to catch a lot."

Wednesday's home run was Sosa's first since April 24 and his first at Fenway since June 21, 1989, when, as a skinny 20-year-old, he sent a drive over the left field wall against then-Red Sox ace Roger Clemens for his first career home run.

"That was a long time ago," Sosa said.

The Boston telecast of the game Wednesday showed a replay of the home run. It was quite a sight to see Sosa, 25 or so pounds lighter, rounding the bases, with curls popping out of his batting helmet. It was a trot that's been repeated 578 times.

Coach Rick Dempsey congratulates catcher Geronimo Gil, who homered.