BALTIMORE -- Willie Harris didn't need a Harvard symbologist in the mold of Robert Langdon standing next to him at first base with two outs in the ninth inning last night to know that the sign relayed to him ordered him not to attempt to steal. He saw and correctly interpreted that sign. He simply didn't obey it.
''I was told I was on the hold sign," Harris acknowledged, after he was gunned out to end last night's game, attempting to take second with Trot Nixon at bat, the count 1 and 0, and the Red Sox trailing, 4-3. ''I saw the hold sign the first pitch. I kind of thought maybe it was just for the first pitch. I told [manager Terry Francona] I screwed up."
Harris was thrown out for just the 15th time in 65 career attempts (that's a 77 percent success rate), costing Nixon a chance to bat with what would have been a 2-and-0 count. But, as Francona aptly pointed out, ''I don't think the game was lost in ninth inning. In the middle innings we just didn't do anything."
The Sox scored once in the first (a David Ortiz RBI ground out) and twice in the ninth, when Ortiz went down to get a 98-mile-per-hour Chris Ray fastball with thunderous results (two-run laser to left-center). But, from the second through eighth innings the Sox had one hit and three base runners (Wily Mo Peña's leadoff walk in the second, Kevin Youkilis's leadoff walk in the third, and Manny Ramírez's leadoff double in the seventh). Erik Bedard, who allowed a run on two hits over seven innings, earned the win in brilliant fashion, ending an embarrassing run of futility for this wallowing Baltimore organization. Until last night the Sox had ripped off 13 wins in a row against the Orioles. In those 13 inglorious games the results were stunningly one-sided:
Sox starters were 12-0 with a 2.78 ERA. Sox relievers were 1-0 with seven saves and a 2.43 ERA.
Orioles starters were 0-11 with a 9.91 ERA and nearly as many walks (44) as strikeouts (45). Baltimore's bullpen was respectable (0-2, 3.88 ERA).
Sox hitters had raked Baltimore pitching at a .304 clip, cranking out 135 hits and scoring 93 runs.
Baltimore batters had hit just .231 (101 for 438), scoring only 41 runs.
The Sox, early last night, had themselves well positioned for No. 14 in a row. Youkilis began the night by working Bedard for 10 pitches and walked. Mark Loretta, who with two hits is 24 for his last 49, followed with a double to left. Ortiz grounded to Kevin Millar at first, scoring Youkilis and moving Loretta to third with just one out.
But Ramírez struck out and Mike Lowell grounded to shortstop, leaving Loretta on base. That would be it until the ninth.
''First two hitters of the game it looked like we were going to do some damage," Francona said. ''[Bedard] got out of it with one and we didn't touch him for a while."
Come the fourth Baltimore got to Tim Wakefield (7 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs). Javy Lopez pulled a leadoff single to left. That brought up Millar, who hadn't started the last four games and began the night batting .220 with two homers, both of which he hit April 12 at Tampa Bay. Millar, most nights, is all sayings and slogans, quotes and quips, often using those to explain a slump instead of to contextualize a thump.
But last night he did come up with a big swing. On a 1-and-1 count he belted a knuckleball 404 feet for a 2-1 lead and offered a priceless explanation.
''Like the old slogan," Millar said, ''when it's high let it fly, when it's low, let it go. I thought it started up. That's the thing with a knuckleball. It does some crazy stuff on you. But I was able to find barrel.
''It was a win that we needed to have, but it's also a special time. I competed with these guys the last three years and to go in there and face them, it's a whole different ballgame."
''Made one mistake to Millar," said Wakefield, who has given up just five homers in nine starts after allowing an American League-leading 35 last year.
Melvin Mora, in the Baltimore fifth, led off by singling to center and moved to third on Miguel Tejada's rocket of a ground-rule double to left-center. Wakefield got Jay Gibbons to pop up to catcher Doug Mirabelli before Ramon Hernandez grounded to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, scoring Mora for a 3-1 lead. The next batter, Lopez, whiffed to end the inning, but not before Wakefield uncorked his second wild pitch of the evening, scoring Tejada.
Bedard, meanwhile, was cruising. After allowing Loretta's double in the first he went 19 batters without allowing another hit, until Ramírez's double. Of those 19 batters, he walked just two.
''The way Bedard was throwing it seemed like a pretty big deficit," Francona said.
But in the ninth, against Ray, Loretta blooped a single to right. Ortiz followed by blistering his 13th homer but just his third in May.
''Never amazed when he does that," Francona said. ''You saw some pretty good velocity. A beautiful swing."
Many among the crowd of 32,089, at the moment of contact, erupted here at Fenway Park South. But then Ray pumped one by Ramírez at 97 miles per hour for a called third strike. Lowell, up next, never lifted the bat off his shoulder when strike three buzzed by at 98 miles per hour. Peña gave the Sox life, singling to Tejada on a play Tejada might have made had he not slipped after fielding the ball.
Harris pinch ran for Peña. Nixon took a pitch. On that pitch, Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said Ray was slow to the plate. ''They saw that and decided to take a shot at it," Perlozzo said.
''They," in this case, was one man. Harris bolted on the next pitch.
Perlozzo, though, sounded like he agreed with Harris's assessment (''With the jump I had, yeah, I thought I was [safe].") Said Perlozzo: ''I wasn't sure they'd call it. Seemed like an eternity before the out call."
Now, it will seem like an eternity for Harris, before that next chance, to swipe that have-to-have-it bag. ''There's going to be times where that situation is going to come again and I'll get it done," he said. ''Tonight, I didn't. I thought I did, but the umpire thought I didn't.
''Hang with 'em."
Said Nixon, who was left with the bat on his shoulder: ''I thought he was in there. That's Willie's game. Obviously, I did want to bat, but I'd never blame a guy for playing hard to get in scoring position."