Red Sox 9, Orioles 3

BALTIMORE, The team that decides the American League East is neither Boston nor New York. It is the hapless Baltimore Orioles. In the span of one week they have boosted two teams' playoff chances, perhaps ruined the race by losing every game against two playoff contenders and created a much-appreciated home-field advantage for the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

It is not difficult to see which team is in the middle of the pennant race and which is simply trying to finish the season as quickly as possible. While the Orioles had prided themselves on playing well against good teams, their performance in Sunday's 9-3 loss to the Red Sox was lacking. They pitched badly and hit poorly. They were sloppy and seemingly lazy. They made mental mistakes and then failed to run out ground balls.

"Sure, there is a guy that might not run down [to] first base full speed," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "What am I going to do? Maybe he won't be here next year. There's a week to go and I'm learning a lot about everybody at this time of the year, too.

"In the long scheme of things, we don't want our Septembers to be like this anymore. I looked up at people cheering [for the Red Sox] out there in the ninth inning and I wanted to say, 'Take a look at this boys, it ain't going to happen no more.' That's the attitude that I take."

But Perlozzo didn't say anything. Instead he remembered the schedule and realized that the Yankees were coming to town Monday. The Orioles, losers of eight consecutive games, lost all seven games to the Red Sox and Yankees this week.

"I'm a little disappointed that we didn't win to impact the race and to help us and to get us some wins," Perlozzo said. "We put a lot of heart and effort out there to come out with nothing in that many games against those two teams."

In May it appeared the 11 games against the Red Sox and Yankees would determine whether Baltimore was headed for the playoffs. Instead, these games have become a fitting end to a miserable season.

"Baltimore plays us tough all the time, but we caught them towards the end of the season," Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon said. "There's been a lot going on here. That was a positive for us."

Even the unstoppable Miguel Tejada, with his heart and mouth constantly in motion, seems distracted or disinterested. In the top of the first inning with runners on first and second and Baltimore already trailing 2-0, he inexplicably broke for second base on a 3-and-2 pitch to John Olerud with two outs. Olerud hit a grounder and the ball went to Tejada's right while he was going left.

"It was a weird hop," Tejada said. "I went one side and the ball went in the other direction. I don't like to make excuses. But what can I do? I'm not a superman."

Left fielder Eric Byrnes picked up the ball that had rolled to left field and threw to Tejada, who simply held it while Jason Varitek scored from first.

"That was my bad," Tejada said. "I didn't think Byrnes was going to throw the ball to me. I thought he was going to throw home. I just threw the ball late."

In the fifth inning, with the Red Sox leading 7-2, Tejada booted a grounder from Tony Graffanino. Boston scored two more runs in the inning. It has been a difficult week for Tejada, who has faced scrutiny after it was revealed his name had been mentioned by Rafael Palmeiro in his testimony to a congressional investigation.

"I'm okay," Tejada said. "I'm the same man. I didn't do anything wrong. I don't have nothing to worry about. The only thing I worry about is about the way we're playing. We're not winning. Something else I don't think about."

Even the fans have betrayed these Orioles. Boston, in its three-game sweep, had the decided advantage in the stands. But Perlozzo thinks there is still an opportunity, with the Yankees in town, to affect the race, give Camden Yards back to Orioles fans and perhaps save his team's dignity.

"The last night when we kick their butts," Perlozzo said, "hopefully [players will] hear from me, 'Look, we're sending them home and it's not going to happen again next year. We're sending [Yankee fans] home quiet, boys. Do you hear it?' That's what I want to be able to say. 'Listen. It's not so loud now.' "