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Red Sox 4, Orioles 0

Victory dance

Sox step away with win after nearly choosing partners in a dust-up

BALTIMORE - Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp considers Daniel Cabrera "a cool acquaintance."

"We're not best boys," Crisp said, "but we've hung out a couple of times."

But that was before Cabrera did something not only uncool but dangerous, throwing a pitch at Dustin Pedroia's head after Crisp's fake dash toward home plate from third base provoked the Orioles starter into a run-producing balk and nearly set off a bench-clearing brawl during the Red Sox' 4-0 win last night.

"The guy's an idiot," Pedroia said. "I dropped my bat. It kind of freaked me out.

"I was upset they took him out of the game. He's good to hit. He's 9-15. The guy [stinks].

"I don't know what he was thinking. I don't think too many of his teammates thought much of what he was thinking, either. It just made him look even more stupid for doing that."

Considering they were about to lose their 11th game in a row at home, a franchise record, it stands to reason that it would not take much to set off the Orioles.

Not enough Jujubes in the clubhouse candy dispenser. An off-key note during the national anthem. A bat boy cracking a joke at the wrong time.

Or, as was the case for Cabrera, the sight of Crisp dancing down the third base line in the fourth inning, his feet tapping out a dare even if there was no taunt on his lips. Coco's cha-cha so unsettled the pitcher that he stopped in full windup, allowing Crisp to trot home on the balk.

"Not too many guys go from the windup when I'm on third base," Crisp said. "I've never stolen home, but I was going to right there, if I'd had another step. But it wouldn't have happened, because he stepped off.

"I was thinking about it. He wasn't looking at me. I don't know if he forgot about me over there or didn't think I was going to go because we've hung out a couple of times, cool acquaintances. But I don't know if that stuff stands, because I'm trying to win a ballgame and situations occur on the field."

Cabrera's next pitch went behind the head of the batter, Pedroia, which elicited a warning to Cabrera from plate umpire Mike DiMuro. Sox players charged from the dugout, with Kevin Youkilis and Bobby Kielty in the vanguard, barking at Cabrera, who gave it right back. Catcher Ramon Hernandez was equally agitated and made a move toward the Sox dugout, which prompted Boston relievers to vault over the bullpen wall in their haste to join what had the makings of a full-scale skirmish.

Umpires restored order before anyone got too overheated. The only physical damage inflicted was to Cabrera's shirt, ripped open as he tried to break away from first base umpire Bill Welke. Cabrera was ejected not for taking target practice at Pedroia, but for his aggressive actions afterward during the near brawl.

"He was looking at me like he wanted to do something to me - like Bernie Mac, the comedian," Crisp said, "but nobody wants that. Who wants to fight? Who wants to go out there and do something other than play baseball? If I wanted to fight, I would have continued boxing, you know what I'm saying?

"I was kind of looking at him like, 'What are you doing, man?' He's one of the hardest throwers in the league. Even though you lose your cool right there, you still can't try and hit somebody in the head, you know what I'm saying? You could kill somebody, man. A lot of people are going to be hurt. It goes beyond being embarrassed or whatever happened during the game."

Also tossed was Sox backup catcher Kevin Cash, whose ejection was never announced and did not become known publicly until Orioles manager Dave Trembley mentioned it in his postgame session. There was no official explanation for why Cash was tossed, although he'd gotten enmeshed with Orioles backup catcher Paul Bako, according to Youkilis, who overheard the umpire saying Cash was being run for aggressive action.

"I'm just glad Pedroia didn't get hurt, to be honest with you," Trembley said.

The Sox were outraged.

"Obviously, he was upset he balked the run in, but I think he lost his composure and I'm sure he'd say the same thing," said third baseman Mike Lowell. "But a guy throws as hard as he does, you got to be careful. If he hits Petey in the head, he can split him in two. That's not right. It's not our fault he balked a run in."

The coolest head in Camden Yards, meanwhile, belonged to Jon Lester, who may not be creating the same excitement as the other kid pitcher in the Sox' arsenal, Clay Buchholz, but quietly turned in his best outing of the season. Lester, now 4-0 in eight starts, allowed just one base runner to advance to third in his seven innings.

Lester gave up only four hits, all singles, while walking two and striking out four before yielding to Javier Lopez at the start of the eighth.

"Kind of teasing him a minute ago: 'Is that the guy I heard about?' " manager Terry Francona said. "The ball came out of his hand, his cutter . . . that's the best I've seen."

The Sox are now as many as 30 games over .500 for the first time since ending the 2004 season with a 98-64 record. They maintained their 6 1/2-game lead over the Yankees. With 20 games to play, they reduced their magic number to win their first division title since 1995 to 15.

They scored all the runs they needed in the second, when Youkilis walked and J.D. Drew, buried by everyone but management, lined an opposite-field ground-rule double. Jason Varitek singled home one run, and Crisp's sacrifice fly scored another.

Varitek struck out with the bases loaded in the third - he would later do the same in the seventh - but Crisp opened the fourth with a single to right after first failing to bunt his way on. The bunt attempt, for a reason known only to Cabrera, appeared to agitate the pitcher, and his mood obviously did not improve as Crisp advanced on infield outs by Julio Lugo and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Then Crisp bluffed, and Cabrera crumbled.

"You don't penalize Pedroia - hit me," Crisp said. "But I don't want to get hit. I'm just playing a game. It's not like a challenge: 'Hit me.' I don't want to be hit. I thought we were cool off the field. He's a good guy off the field, we hung out off the field."

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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