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RED SOX 6, ORIOLES 5

Hero sandwich

Red Sox put together a delicious victory on late home runs by Walker and Ortiz

The good-luck charms are as simple and as homespun as the man who found them one day a few weeks ago in the Red Sox dugout. A couple of loose screws (resist the cheap jokes here) that Grady Little picked up one day, a day the Sox came from behind to win, and has been carrying around ever since.

"I didn't have them last night," Little said, "until David Ortiz came back here into my office in the middle of the game, found them, and brought them out to me."

You take your inspiration wherever you can find it. One strike away from defeat, those screws were in Little's grasp when Todd Walker delivered a thunderclap, a three-run home run into the visitors' bullpen to tie the score with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. And they were still there an inning later when Ortiz singlehandedly lifted his teammates out of the dugout and turned them into a swirling, jumping, singing mass of joyous humanity with a walkoff home run into the Monster seats.

You shouldn't rate miracles, you should only enjoy them.

"This is average for this year for us, isn't it?" said John W. Henry, the Sox owner who was an even whiter shade of his usual pale after a 6-5 Red Sox win in 10 innings over the Baltimore Orioles that will rank as the season's most exhilarating on a list that undergoes revision seemingly on a daily basis.

The Sox -- whose magic number is down to 2 after Seattle lost in 11 innings last night to Anaheim -- can clinch the wild card with a victory tonight over the Orioles at Fenway and another Mariners defeat in Anaheim this afternoon.

"Did you notice that with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, there were virtually no empty seats in the house?" Henry said. "It's like everyone was expecting us to win this game."

And why not? How many times this season have the Sox weaved the tapestry of victory out of threads that seemed hopelessly twisted in a losing knot?

Where does the list begin? Nomar Garciaparra's walkoff home run against the Blue Jays that Sunday afternoon in April, the 20th, when the Sox were down, 5-0, and came out 6-5 winners?

And when will the list, which now numbers eight walkoff wins (two by home run) and 23-last-bat wins -- a startling 24.7 percent of the team's total of 93 -- end? Surely not now in September, which began with that epic six-run ninth inning in Philadelphia, continued two nights later in Chicago with Ortiz's consecutive home runs when he batted in the eighth and 10th, and reached Category 5 level last night in the Fens, when the force of Walker's tying blow off Jorge Julio and Ortiz's winner off Kurt Ainsworth threatened to lift the ancient greensward off its 91-year-old canvas.

Wave after wave of cheers echoed down from the grandstand and crested on the steps of the first-base dugout, where Henry had pushed Ortiz out to listen to chants of "Or-teez, Or-teez" from the sellout crowd of 33,723. Of course, Henry said, he was tempted to join the tilt-a-whirl of Sox players that pounded Ortiz as he crossed home plate.

"Me, along with 34,000 other people," Henry said. "I did come down and grab David as they were yelling his name, but by the time I got him out there they already had stopped.

"But he's been such a hero, week after week."

This was a game the Sox seemed destined to lose. After Tim Wakefield gave up a three-run home run to Luis Matos in the second inning, the Sox could manage just three hits through seven innings against two young Baltimore lefties, rookie Eric Dubose and David Parrish. In the eighth, Julio whiffed Kevin Millar and had Bill Mueller cradling his head in his hands after his deep liner to center was run down by Matos, stranding pinch runner Adrian Brown at third after he'd stolen his way around the bases.

The cause seemed even more hopeless when the Orioles scored twice in the top of the ninth off Bronson Arroyo, aided by Gabe Kapler's error.

But then Jason Varitek pinch-hit a single, and Nomar Garciaparra drew a two-out walk. Walker then golfed a low 3-and-2 fastball from Julio that he thought was ticketed for the glove of right fielder Jay Gibbons -- especially when Gibbons didn't move -- but it kept carrying and carrying until it cleared Gibbons's head and landed in the visitors' pen.

"By far," Walker said, "the biggest thrill of my life to this point. The way it happened, how it came about under the circumstances, a win like this can carry us a long way. Everybody was trying to sing Ortiz's song [what Ortiz called a Spanish version of the hip-hop song, `Jump Around'], but nobody knew the words."

No protests from Walker that he wasn't trying to hit a home run in that situation.

"A situation like that, you want to hit a home run so badly," he said.

No understating how meaningful this victory was. If the Sox win a World Series, Ortiz said, he will teach even flat-footed New Englanders how to do the merengue, the most popular dance in his native Dominican Republic, and he'll throw in the tango, too.

"This type of win can really do some damage," said Millar, who in the eighth, with the tying run on base, went down swinging against Julio, who threw what Millar described as "the slider from hell." "It doesn't get much sweeter than this. The momentum you get from a win like this, knowing that you can pull one out like this. It reminded me of Scott Spiezio's home run [in Game 6 of last year's World Series]. That was a World Series, but this one was just awesome."

Just call it another turn of the screw, and see you next week in Oakland.

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