BALTIMORE -- This place, the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards, is where the Red Sox lingered after Game No. 162 last season. They showered with less fury than usual, lingering on leather couches to watch on TVs the final outs of a Twins game that would determine whether the Sox charter lifted off for a division series beginning in Anaheim or Minnesota.
Pedro Martinez, dressing along the far wall, looked up at the Twins telecast and defiantly questioned aloud, ''[Johan] Santana, and then who?"
Such was the swagger that accompanied a pitching staff with pocket aces, a Keith Foulke-led bullpen, and a nonpareil offense.
The current Sox arrived here this weekend with 10 games to play, behind the Yankees by a game in the East, inspiring far less confidence, if not in themselves then in their fans, who were calling yesterday for a 21-year-old (Craig Hansen) to begin closing games after the 39-year-old (Mike Timlin) faltered Wednesday in Tampa, when the division lead was lost.
''It was funny," Timlin said after last night's 6-3 Boston win, which he ended by fanning David Newhan, concluding a day that began with both Timlin and Terry Francona besieged with Hansen queries. ''Because I had to talk to you guys, and [Francona] talked to you guys. I went in and said, 'This is what I heard.' And he said, 'This is what I heard.' We had a laugh.
''He knows what I can do. He has confidence in what I do."
If confidence is to hatch anywhere, and grow, an ideal place figures to be the back end of the bullpen.
Yes, Miguel Tejada's fifth-inning error allowed three unearned Sox runs, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. And yes, Manny Ramirez wrote an insurance policy with a two-run homer, his 40th of the year, in the seventh.
But it was the bullpen that restored calm both in the clubhouse and elsewhere, and kept the Sox within one game of the resurrected Yankees, who received leadoffs leadoff homers from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in the Bronx, led 4-0 after one inning, and never looked back, beating Toronto, 5-0, for their 10th victory in 11 games.
Bronson Arroyo, after initially stumbling (three runs on six hits in three innings, then no runs on one hit in four innings), held it together until the top of the eighth, when he issued a no-out walk and was lifted.
Mike Myers (six pitches, four strikes) popped up Jay Gibbons. Jonathan Papelbon (six pitches, five strikes) entered with as lively a fastball as he's had and fanned Javier Lopez on a 96 mile-per-hour fastball, then got B.J. Surhoff to fly out. Papelbon's only ball: a 96-m.p.h. heater to Lopez just off the plate, spotted where Jason Varitek wanted it.
''Papelbon, I think he's fallen into the primary setup role," Timlin said. ''Hansen, he's down there observing but has the capability to get guys out."
The pressure on the Sox last night began far earlier. The Sox came to bat in the top of the first already behind. The right-field scoreboard, brightly illuminated, showed, ''NYY 4, TOR 0," in the first inning at Yankee Stadium.
Undaunted, the Sox sent seven men to the plate, scoring once but leaving two men on base. Edgar Renteria, 4 for his last 39 (.103) entering last night, singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on a Ramirez RBI single. (Renteria would go 2 for 4 with a walk and three runs scored).
Trot Nixon then walked but was stranded, along with Ramirez, when Varitek fanned.
Baltimore responded by sending eight men to bat against Arroyo in the bottom half, scoring twice before leaving the bases loaded. Arroyo allowed hits or walks to five of the first six batters, which led Francona to get Lenny DiNardo up in the bullpen.
With the bases loaded, Arroyo induced Surhoff to ground weakly toward third. Bill Mueller cut down Tejada at home. And Arroyo got Chris Gomez to pop to shallow right to end the threat.
''For whatever reason he found himself, and found it good," Francona said. ''That pitch to Surhoff, who knows when the season's over . . ."
Arroyo finished that thought.
''[If] I don't get Surhoff out I don't finish that inning. DiNardo's in the game."
Arroyo meant no slight to DiNardo. Simply put: Get one-third of an inning out of your starting pitcher and you're probably not winning, and you might do in your bullpen in the process. Instead, he went long enough to improve to 4-0 with a 3.60 ERA in five September starts. He hasn't allowed a home run in his last four starts.
Baltimore made it 3-1 in the third, on consecutive no-out doubles by Tejada (his team-record-tying 50th of the season) and Jay Gibbons.
But Tejada handed that lead away in the fifth with his 21st error of the season. Alex Cora (leadoff single) and Renteria (walk) were aboard with two outs when Ramirez grounded to Tejada. He fielded it on the backhand, with a long throw to make, and took, it appeared, too much time.
He airmailed the throw over Gomez's head. Instead of the inning ending, Cora scored, and Renteria scampered to third. Trot Nixon, up next, appeared to walk on a 3-and-1 fastball that flamethrower Daniel Cabrera (one of his pitches registered at 99 on the outfield scoreboard and 101 on the Orioles broadcast) threw down the middle but undeniably high. But it was called a strike by plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Nixon, a dead fastball hitter, dug back in and ripped a straight 3-and-2 fastball on the inner half into the gap in right center, plating Renteria and Ramirez, the latter all the way from first, reestablishing a Sox lead, 4-3.
Ramirez, usually comfortable in the right lane, kicked it into gear and motored home, losing his helmet rounding third.
''He plays the game hard," said Nixon, who is 6 for 11 with a homer, a triple, a double, and three walks in his last three games after struggling mightily since coming off the DL Aug. 23. ''I'm not worried about that."
That set many of the 46,850 in Camden Yards in motion, this ballpark, again, taken over by members of the Nation. Ramirez again brought them to their feet in the seventh, with a 420-foot blast that traveled all the way to the Sox bullpen, where Timlin flagged it down with a towel.
One that neither he, nor the Sox, are ready to throw in just yet.