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RED SOX 7, A'S 3

A high for Lowe

Hurler, sluggers silence Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's not easy being Derek Lowe, not when he somehow has been made to feel like a pariah even though the Red Sox have won 16 of his 25 starts, just two fewer than they won in his first 25 outings last year as he steamed into contention for the Cy Young Award.

So Lowe could be forgiven last night for exhibiting his most enthusiastic display of emotion since he polished off the first no-hitter at Fenway Park since 1965 last year. After all, he all but secured one of the biggest wins of the season by fanning Erubiel Durazo with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth inning, preserving a 4-2 lead and propelling the Sox toward an exhilarating 7-3 triumph over the A's before 44,868 at Network Associates Coliseum.

Lowe thrust his fist toward the heavens as he leaped off the mound, then gazed squarely into the A's dugout before he departed with a electric jolt of confidence -- a jolt that also gave new life to the playoff-famished Sox.

"That was the biggest out I've gotten in a long time," said Lowe, who battled out of a 3-0 hole to fan

Durazo. "The emotion at the end of that was directed towards nobody. Being able to make three pitches in a row at that time was something I was proud of." For one sweet night, Lowe was lights out and the Sox lit up Oakland's sensational lefthander Mark Mulder for six runs (five earned) over 6 1/3 innings to put themselves in position to leave town today with a split against one of their chief rivals.

"It will rank up there as one of our bigger wins of the season," Sox manager Grady Little said.

Answering Little's urgent call to reverse their recent woes, Lowe and the Sox combined to reclaim a piece of the wild card lead with the A's and creep to within three games of the top spot in the AL East.

They could thank Kevin Millar and Manny Ramirez in large part for the breakthrough. They each knocked in three runs, combining to pace three-run rallies in the third and seventh innings. In the seventh, Ramirez uncorked a two-run homer, his 27th, the latest sign of hope that he may emerge from a two-week slump and help carry the Sox down the stretch. Millar followed with a solo shot for Boston's final run.

"This was huge, to get out of there with a [possible] split with the pitching staff they've got," Millar said. "These guys are phenomenal."

With Lowe cooked after throwing 92 pitches over five trying innings, the Sox pen picked him up. Scott Sauerbeck surrendered his first earned runs with the Sox, yielding a solo shot to Jose Guillen in the seventh. But the Sox relief corps, which has logged a 1.86 ERA over its last 18 1/3 innings, otherwise was untouchable. Sauerback, Scott Williamson, Mike Timlin, and Byung Hyun Kim did the honors, each going an inning.

Lowe, rebounding from two straight miserable losses against the Orioles, improved to 12-6 as he tries to shave his ERA (5.02) to a more palatable mark.

"He really cowboyed up," Millar said, alluding to the team slogan -- "The time is now . . . so cowboy up" -- emblazoned on the fire-engine red T-shirts the Sox have taken to wearing. "We needed somebody to step up and he did a great job."

Lowe called it his biggest win in recent memory, particularly because he outdueled Mulder.

"People say you're not pitching against a certain guy, you're pitching against an offense, but I take that the other way," he said. "I know who I'm facing. This guy has nine complete games and the best home ERA [1.86 entering the game], so you know you have to pitch a good game."

The A's had early succcess against Lowe, touching him for a run in each of the first two innings before the Sox seized their first lead of the series in the third. Little, loading his lineup with eight righthanded hitters and Johnny Damon, opted to go with Dave McCarty, Gabe Kapler, and Damian Jackson, who were batting a combined .167 (5 for 30) against Mulder, rather than lefthanded hitters David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, and Todd Walker, who were a combined .182 (2 for 11). Jackson helped to key the first big rally by lacing a single to left in the third.

Jackson sped to second on Damon's single and took third when Bill Mueller singled to load the bases. A batter later, Ramirez drew Mulder's first walk in 14 innings, forcing in Jackson to make it 2-1. Millar followed by ripping a fastball to center for a two-run single.

Leading, 4-2, in the fifth, Lowe put himself -- and the lead -- in peril by walking Scott Hatteberg and leaving up an 0-2 pitch that Jose Guillen rifled to right for a single. Lowe complicated matters by walking Miguel Tejada with two outs to load the bases. Then he missed badly with a couple of pitches as he fell behind Durazo, 3-0, before he battled back to strike him out with a sinking, 88-mile-an-hour fastball, prompting his display of glee, a sharp contrast to the disappointment he often has shown this year on the mound.

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