Red Sox 4, Orioles 3

It has sat there for months now, a final weekend matchup that has been anticipated since the schedule was released. If things worked out the way they were supposed to, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox would face each other in the final three games of the year to decide the American League East. For a while it seemed the Baltimore Orioles would ruin that weekend by jumping to the top of the division, but that notion, along with Baltimore's playoff chances, vanished long ago. Now it is only Boston and New York, once again, for better or for worse, fighting for the postseason.

Boston's 4-3 win over Baltimore on Saturday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards put the Red Sox in a first-place tie with the Yankees, who lost Saturday afternoon to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox knew that first place could be had before their game started.

"It was an opportunity you knew was out there and you wanted to take hold of it," said Red Sox closer Mike Timlin, who allowed a run in the ninth. "It gave us a little life."

It is perhaps a tenuous thing that Boston is relying on rookies in late-inning situations with a playoff spot in jeopardy. In the days leading up to Saturday's game, fans and critics had been frustrated that Boston Manager Terry Francona refused to use rookie Craig Hansen in critical spots.

Prior to Saturday, the young reliever, drafted 26th overall this season from St. John's University, had not allowed a run in his professional career, which had spanned 162/3 innings. In his major league debut on Monday, Hansen struck out two against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But on Saturday, Hansen faltered after being given a 2-0 lead. He allowed a game-tying two-run home run to Melvin Mora in the seventh inning.

"It is easy to put today behind me because in school I was a closer and I learned tomorrow we had another game," Hansen said.

After the inning, Hansen spoke with catcher Jason Varitek, who told the young pitcher not to be afraid to ask for another sign. Hansen, who had been so dominant in college, couldn't remember when he had last given up a home run.

"It's been a while," he said with a smile. "I usually give up one home run per season. I think I gave one up this year. If I didn't, then there it was."

For the record, Hansen gave up one home run this season for the Red Storm. With his demeanor, it's likely the reliever will forget Saturday's home run soon.

"I do like the way he handled himself," Francona said. "It was a lot to ask of the kid. But we're trying to have more weapons here. If I said it's learning on the job, it would be the understatement of my life."

In the eighth inning with the score still tied, Francona sent out rookie Jon Papelbon, who allowed a single but got out of the inning when Varitek threw out pinch runner Ed Rogers on a steal attempt. After the play, Papelbon, who earned the win, thrust his fist in the air.

"I knew that it was a big moment in the game," he said. "I knew if we could get the momentum in our hands, it would swing the game."

And it did when in the ninth inning, Edgar Renteria's two-out, two-run bloop hit against Baltimore closer B.J. Ryan gave Boston the winning margin and first place again.

"I was looking for something up to put the ball in play," Renteria said. "You really can't see the ball against him. You have to be lucky to get a hit."

Inexplicably, Red Sox starter Matt Clement had a no-hitter through four innings even though he had walked six and seemed to have little control of the strike zone. It only seemed that Clement had a 3-and-2 count on every Orioles batter. Clement twice pitched out of harrowing situations. In both the second and fourth innings Clement walked the bases loaded. Both times Baltimore center fielder Luis Matos left them loaded.

But it was not likely that Clement would last long since he had exhausted himself in getting out of those two jams. By the end of the fourth, Clement had thrown 84 pitches but still had his no-hitter. Clement gave up his first hit in the fifth and would have gotten the win if not for Hansen.

"It definitely makes it easier," Hansen said, "since we got the win."