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Last hurrah

Cabrera's homer in 12th bails out Sox

As the late, great broadcaster Ned Martin might have exclaimed, "Mercy."

For the second straight game, the Red Sox last night overcame an unnerving lapse by Keith Foulke and rallied past the Orioles in their topsy-turvy ride toward the postseason. After Foulke blew a 6-5 lead by surrendering a pinch homer to Rafael Palmeiro leading off the ninth inning, the Sox rescued him again when Orlando Cabrera homered off Rick Bauer leading off the bottom of the 12th for a rousing 7-6 victory before 35,103 at Fenway Park.

Cabrera, newly returned from visiting his ailing wife, Eliana, in his native Colombia, launched a 92-mile-per-hour fastball on a 2-and-2 pitch over the Monster to send the Sox and the remaining diehards into a joyous frenzy to the beat of "Dirty Water."

The homer was Cabrera's first at Fenway Park. And he found himself trying to keep his pants on amid the victory scrum at home plate as someone -- he thinks it was Manny Ramirez -- tried to pull a prank during the celebration.

"It's unbelievable, especially as the game went in the ninth," Cabrera said after recovering from a red-eye flight from Bogota.

The thrilling finish unfolded after Foulke blew his second save in as many nights and surrendered his third ninth-inning homer to an Oriole in three nights. Palmeiro's blast followed Javy Lopez's two-run shot off Foulke Tuesday and Melvin Mora's solo homer in the Orioles' win Monday. The Sox came back to win Tuesday's game on Mark Bellhorn's walkoff, two-run single with two outs in the ninth.

Almost any victory over the Orioles has been an ordeal for the Sox, who improved to 8-6 against Baltimore with five more to play.

"This is big because these guys own us," Curtis Leskanic said after picking up the win with a major assist from his defense. "This will be good in the next week to know we can beat these guys."

The victory lifted the Sox within 3 1/2 games of the division-leading Yankees (who lost to the Blue Jays, 5-4) in the run-up to a three-game showdown with the Steinbrenner Nine that opens tomorrow in the Fens. The Sox also have a 6 1/2-game lead over the Angels (who lost to Seattle last night, 16-6) for the wild-card, but it's the division they continue to pursue.

"We all want to win the East," Leskanic said as his teammates reveled in watching ESPN's Harold Reynolds switching jobs with equipment manager Pookie Jackson and ball girl Kelly Barons. "We all want to have the home-field advantage in the playoffs."

Foulke's latest lapse marked the first time in his career as a closer he has allowed home runs in three straight games.

"I think we're resilient, if nothing else, because we haven't done some things lately that we were doing before," manager Terry Francona said. "I think we'll get back to that, but to win a game when you are not doing things perfectly, it was really good for us."

Cabrera's home run overshadowed a historic achievement by David Ortiz in the seventh inning. With the Sox trailing, 5-4, Ortiz slugged his 40th homer of the season, a two-run shot that appeared to put Francona's lads on a glide path to a 6-5 victory.

Ortiz joined Ramirez (41 homers) as only the second pair of Red Sox sluggers to connect for 40 or more homers in the same year, a milestone even the great tandems of Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx and Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were unable to reach. The only previous pair of Sox hitters to go deep 40 or more times in a season were Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli, who each slugged 40 homers in 1969.

After the shot by Ortiz, Mike Timlin preserved the lead by pitching a scoreless eighth before he handed off to Foulke, who promptly prolonged his slump.

"I know you can't look at it like this all the time, but if we had a two-run lead we'd be kind of brushing this aside," Francona said in defending Foulke. "I know that's not the case, but my point is, I think he's fine."

The Sox had a chance to overtake the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth after Ortiz bounced a single off pitcher Jason Grimsley's glove leading off. Dave Roberts, running for Ortiz, stole second and advanced to third on Gabe Kapler's ground out before Grimsley walked Doug Mientkiewicz and Jason Varitek to load the bases with one out.

But Grimsley escaped by getting Cabrera to bounce into a fielder's choice, with Roberts erased at the plate, and inducing an inning-ending force out by Bill Mueller.

Varitek gave the crowd cause for hope when he launched a drive deep to center in the 11th, but a strong wind knocked it down and it landed in Larry Bigbie's glove for the final out of the inning.

Then the Sox dodged danger in the 12th when the Orioles loaded the bases with one out against Leskanic. When Leskanic got Jay Gibbons to roll a grounder toward first, Mientkiewicz started a sensational double play by throwing home to Varitek, who then fired to second baseman Pokey Reese covering first to extricate the Sox from the threat.

"I was just hoping we would get an out at home," Leskanic said. "When I saw Tek come off the plate and start firing it to first base, I said, `No way.' But he threw [it] about 96 miles an hour."

And Reese made the play possible by reaching first base in time to take the throw.

"A lot of credit goes to those guys for keeping us in the game," Cabrera said, referring to the defense and bullpen.

Seven Sox relievers combined to work 6 2/3 innings, with Foulke surrendering the only run, though Mike Myers allowed an inherited run to score.

With the Sox carefully weighing the contingencies for their postseason rotation, starter Bronson Arroyo fared no worse than Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield in their most recent outings, though Arroyo fell short of his effectiveness in his previous two starts (he allowed the Yankees two runs over six innings Friday after blanking the Mariners for seven innings Sept. 11).

Arroyo, making his second attempt to win his 10th game of the season, let the opportunity slip away when he surrendered a one-out single to Javy Lopez amid a 4-4 tie in the sixth. Myers allowed Lopez to score on a double by Bigbie to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead before Ortiz countered in the seventh.

The Sox stayed in contention by amassing more runs (six) off Baltimore starter Sidney Ponson than the five earned runs he surrendered in his previous three starts combined.

Considering the crazy finish, the Sox could have used a run they failed to score in the fifth when third base coach Dale Sveum windmilled Ramirez homeward on a single by Trot Nixon, only for Ramirez to pull up even though he appeared to have plenty of time to score. He wound up stranded.

"Dale was definitely bringing him all the way and Manny kind of used his own judgment," Francona said. "That was a big run at the time."

But Cabrera got it back in the end.

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