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Tavarez still perfect as starter

Righthander tags Orioles with loss

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.

Papelbon throwing
Having thrown 20 pitches, mainly fastballs (``nice and fluid, with some movement," Francona said) off a mound Tuesday, Jonathan Papelbon threw off flat ground yesterday and should throw to hitters today.

``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.

Will he or won't he?
The possibility remains that Manny Ramírez will appear in one of the final two games of the season. But even his best friend on the team, Tavarez, isn't sure.

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.' "

Meetings on tap
General manager Theo Epstein and Francona will probably start their meetings with the coaching staff Monday. With the health troubles of pitching coach Dave Wallace, the Red Sox have a logjam on the major league roster. Both Al Nipper and Ralph Treuel have remained with the team since Wallace returned. The team might also make a change at hitting coach, where Ron Jackson has presided the past four seasons . . . Matt Clement stopped by the clubhouse to say hello to Francona. Francona described Clement's appearance as ``kind of haggard." Makes sense for a player who had extensive shoulder surgery Tuesday. ``Under the circumstances, he feels about as good as he could," Francona said . . . With a fourth-inning strikeout, Jason Varitek had struck out swinging seven straight times on the homestand before singling to right in the fifth . . . Shortstop Miguel Tejada's second-inning single moved him past Cal Ripken Jr. on the Orioles' season hit list. Ripken had 211 hits in 1983 . . . Millar held the manager's office hostage before the game, sitting in Francona's chair and claiming he was making out the 2007 lineup for his former team -- with him in it . . . Ortiz walked three times for the second straight game. That gave him 117 bases on balls, the most for a Sox player since Wade Boggs's 125 in 1988 . . . Francona said Kevin Youkilis would likely get the last two games of the season off because of numerous ailments . . . The Sox set an attendance record for the seventh straight year with a mark of 2,858,346.

SOX OFFSEASON PREVIEW: Gordon Edes looks ahead to the Hot Stove period at Boston.com/redsox.

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