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Lining up for these finishes

They are the Walkoff Wonders of 2006. David Ortiz Saturday. Ortiz again Monday. Mark Loretta last night.

It's appropriate that Dennis Eckersley works at Fenway Park these days. Eck, after all, is the man who invented ``walkoff." And the Sox have made it their signature move.

Michael Jackson has the moonwalk. Hollywood Boulevard has the Walk of Fame. Marc Cohn had ``Walkin' in Memphis." Johnny Cash walked the line. And the Red Sox make their opponents walk off the field in abject agony after another winning hit by the local nine.

Wonder why traffic is so bad around Fenway after the games? Because nobody ever leaves the ballpark, that's why. Only a dope would walk away from a Sox game before the final out is registered.

The Indians couldn't finish the job last night. Intent on finding out if Fausto Carmona has the makeup of a closer (he doesn't), Cleveland manager Eric Wedge left his rocket righty on the hill to suffer one of the more humiliating beatings of any season. Leading, 5-4, Dr. Fausto (the same guy who coughed it up to Big Papi Monday) hit Doug Mirabelli and Alex Gonzalez with pitches. Then he walked Kevin Youkilis on a 3-and-2 pitch before ending his misery by yielding a Wall-ball double to Loretta.

Ortiz was on deck when this one ended and he tackled Youkilis in the infield during the postgame bedlam.

Deja vu all over again.

This latest magic came on a night that could have been deflating. It had been a bad week for Boston fans. The Sox did not make a move at the trading deadline, while the Yankees added punch and pitching. Then the Sox put Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek on the disabled list. Then the Yankees moved into first place in the American League East for the first time since June 17. It looked as if the Yankees were about to go two up on the Sox in the loss column when Mendoza Line Mirabelli got things going by getting hit by a 3-and-2 pitch.

``We'd certainly rather be up one, but in this ballpark, crazy things happen," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ``I think a combination of them having some youth out there, we have a good team that doesn't quit. The whole ballpark is vibrating. We just thankfully don't stop playing . . . We end up winning a game that was very losable because of [Travis] Hafner's home run. We end up with the music playing down there and we got a win."

Another great win. Another walkoff. More ``Dirty Water" and ``Tessie." Dancing in the streets. But at the risk of sounding negative, I'm still wondering if these star-sparkled finishes are only obscuring the fact that July 31 might still go down as the Day the Music Died for the 2006 Red Sox.

It was on Monday that Nixon was placed on the disabled list with a strained right biceps and it was on Monday that Varitek came out of the game after aggravating a knee injury while running the bases (Varitek will have surgery today and is lost until September). It was on Monday that Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle were fitted for pinstripe jerseys and it was on Monday that Theo Epstein announced there would be no trading deadline deal for the Red Sox.

Yesterday's headline in the New York Times read: ``All Is Right in the World: Yanks Are Back in First." The Yankees have finished first, the Red Sox second for a major league-record eight consecutive seasons. When New York's $200 million roster was plagued with injuries early in the season, it looked as if this might be the year the Sox could finally overtake the Steinbrenner Athletic Club. But somehow the Yankees stayed afloat without Messrs. Matsui and Sheffield, and with a suspect pitching staff.

Now the cleat is on the other foot. Now the Red Sox are scuffling with injuries and holes in the pitching staff. And Sox players have been told they'll play out the season without significant reinforcements. Oh, and Jason Johnson is your starting pitcher Sunday.

Are the Sox going to regret not making a move? Are there enough walkoff wins left in the tank to make fans forget the inaction?

``It's always a balancing act," owner John W. Henry admitted. ``You want to make the team better, but sometimes the cost is too steep. And young pitching is just so hard to acquire. There is next year's team to be concerned about. That makes it difficult for the GM to do the right thing."

Still, let's hope the Sox didn't let organizational arrogance -- too much pride in their own prospects -- get in the way of making a deal that would have helped the ``big league team" finish ahead of the Yankees for the first time since 1995.

``Every baseball organization worries about that [overrating its prospects]," admitted CEO Larry Lucchino. ``But I think our guys are coldly objective, and we count on them for that."

``There were certain people that were not going to be traded," reasoned Henry. ``A year or more from now, if they're struggling we might look back. But you can't expect lights out from them right away. It's part of the maturing process."

So far, the maturing process seems to be going pretty well. A lot of wins and a lot of satisfied customers (in addition to last night's victory, fans were treated to the hardest-hit ball in baseball history when Wily Mo Peña almost killed some folks with a Monster shot in the sixth).

The Red Sox have seven walkoff wins this year. They have won 13 games in their final at-bat. Every time they seem bound for Panic Town they turn it around with another walkoff win. Last night's was one of the best.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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