Gracefully tagging out runners? Not exactly at the top of Julian Tavarez's list. But starting pitching? He's getting to be pretty good at that.
A month since he was inserted into the Red Sox' rotation on an emergency basis, Tavarez still hasn't recorded a loss, going 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in six starts -- a full run lower than Josh Beckett's.
Tavarez (5-4) last night held the Baltimore Orioles to two runs over five innings in a 4-3 win in front of a half-empty Fenway crowd officially announced as 36,269.
``I just thought it was a good way for him to end the year," manager Terry Francona said. ``He's been a breath of fresh air for us. When we were in a time of need, he really came in and did a great job. Now going into next year, whether he's a starter or reliever, I think we all feel that we've got a guy that can fill some innings and get some outs, regardless of where we pitch him."
Both runs last night came in a messy third inning that not only upped Tavarez's ERA, it also dirtied his uniform.
With Brian Roberts wandering off second base, the bases loaded, and two outs, Tavarez ran toward the bag in a futile attempt to pick off Roberts, finally flopping awkwardly on top of the base and Roberts's feet. Nice try. Except time out had been called.
``He's going to be in bloopers for the rest of his life," David Ortiz said. ``Too much Red Bull, man."
With two double plays behind him, in the first and second innings, Tavarez escaped an outing that included six hits and five walks, and a solo home run to Kevin Millar. Though it wasn't quite the gem he pitched his last time out -- a complete-game win over the Blue Jays -- it was enough to move the Sox into a second-place tie with Toronto, which lost to the Yankees.
The Sox scored two runs in the first, when a Mike Lowell double scored Ortiz and Wily Mo Peña. They added a pair in the fifth on a single by Mark Loretta, double by Ortiz, RBI single by Peña, and sacrifice fly by Lowell.
``Strong as can be," Papelbon said. ``I can go into the offseason having a clear conscience, knowing I can push myself."
With an offseason program designed to strengthen his fatigued right shoulder, Papelbon said he should be getting back to throwing starting in mid-December.
Ramírez told Tavarez he would be the designated hitter in tonight's game. But is it true? ``That's what he say," Tavarez said. ``I don't believe Manny anymore, I don't know. I told him today, `You're driving me crazy.' "
SOX OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Gordon Edes looks ahead to the Hot Stove period at Boston.com/redsox.