Boston bullpen nearly blows another big lead

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Thanks to Boston's shaky bullpen, a seemingly
routine victory turned into a nerve-rattling experience.

Nomar Garciaparra threw out Deivi Cruz at the plate for the
final out, and the Red Sox hung on to beat the Baltimore Orioles
8-7 Friday night despite nearly blowing a seven-run lead.

The Orioles rallied against Ramiro Mendoza in the ninth, cutting
a five-run deficit to 8-6 before Geronimo Gil stepped to the plate
with two outs and runners at the corners.

Gil doubled off the left-field wall, but the relay from Manny
Ramirez to shortstop Garciaparra to catcher Jason Varitek cut down
Cruz on a very close play and preserved Boston's fourth consecutive victory.

''That was a little scary. It was crazy,'' said Boston's Todd
Walker, who homered and drove in two runs. ''Everything they hit
found holes. Luckily, we scored enough runs to win the game.''

Just barely.

''I viewed the replay, and I might even question if he was
out,'' said Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, whose decision
to send Cruz was supported by manager Mike Hargrove.

''You've got to send Cruz,'' Hargrove said. ''For me, that's a
good play. You don't know if you're going to get another hit.''

Kevin Millar drove in two runs in a five-run third inning as the
Red Sox built an 8-1 lead.

But Boston's bullpen almost blew it -- the Orioles scored two
runs off Steve Woodard in the seventh and four more in the ninth.

Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly, and Tony Batista and Melvin
Mora had run-scoring singles in the ninth. Cruz's single put runners at
first and third for Gil.

Using a closer-by-committee approach this season, the Red Sox
blew three-run leads in the late innings against Tampa Bay in the
first two games of the year. This game wasn't much different,
except that Boston held on.

''We won the game and things didn't go perfectly. But they
will,'' Red Sox manager Grady Little said.

There's nothing wrong with the Boston offense, which has totaled
42 runs in five games this season. Every player in the starting
lineup reached base either on a hit or a walk by the fourth inning.

Boston starter John Burkett (1-0) allowed seven hits over five
innings and left with a 5-1 lead.

''I figured I'd go in, take a shower, come out and shake some
hands,'' Burkett said. ''I'll never take a shower again. I go in,
come back and we're in trouble.''

Batista had four hits and B.J. Surhoff went 3-for-5 for the
Orioles, who have lost three in a row.

Down 1-0, the Red Sox took control in the third when Sidney
Ponson (0-1) gave up five hits, walked three batters and threw a
wild pitch.

After Walker singled in a run, Ponson walked David Ortiz with
the bases loaded and gave up a two-run single to Millar. Shea
Hillenbrand then hit a run-scoring single and Trot Nixon singled to load
the bases and chase Ponson.

Pat Hentgen, making his first relief appearance since April
1993, retired the side by getting Varitek to hit into a double

But Varitek hit a two-run shot off Hentgen in the sixth, and two
batters later Walker connected to make it 8-1. Ramirez also singled
in the inning, extending his hitting streak over two seasons to 18

Baltimore scored twice in the seventh on a run-scoring double by
Surhoff and a run-scoring groundout by Jay Gibbons.

The Orioles went up 1-0 in the second on a two-out run-scoring single by
Jerry Hairston, but Ponson gave the lead away in the next inning.

Game notes
After the game, the Orioles activated first baseman/desiginated hitter David Segui
(thumb) from the 15-day disabled list and sent third baseman Jose Leon to
Triple-A Ottawa. ... On a night in which temperatures dipped into
the 40s, play was interrupted in the seventh when a fan clad only
in boxer shorts ran across the field and posed in the batter's box
before being tackled by a policeman. ... Boston has won six
in a row in Baltimore over two years and is 25-7 at Camden Yards
since the start of the 1999 season. ... Baltimore outfielder Marty Cordova
missed his third consecutive game with pain in his lower back, the
result of a herniated disc. He hopes to return Saturday. ...
Boston's Jeremy Giambi, who started the season in a 1-for-15 slump,
was rested. ... Surhoff ended an 0-for-10 drought to start the
season with a leadoff single in the third.