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RED SOX 4, A'S 2

Grade A effort boosts Red Sox

Late heroics produce split in Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. -- This was it. Of all the times in all the ballparks in the cosmos for the Red Sox to reel off a remarkable reminder of their resilience in the face of strife, they played it to perfection yesterday at a memorable crossroads in their quest for postseason glory.

They did it with a dazzling array of individual star turns in one of the season's classics, rising out of a 2-1 jam in the ninth inning to force extras and stun the A's, 4-2, in 10 innings before 37,293 at Network Associates Coliseum. Oakland had not lost after entering the ninth with a lead in 185 games since Aug. 14, 2001, exactly two years earlier.

The Sox, capturing their 30th come-from-behind victory, rid themselves of the sour taste of losing the first two games of the four-game showdown as they salvaged a crucial split, reclaimed their one-game lead in the wild-card derby, and kept pace three games behind the Yankees in the American League East.

"It means a lot to our ball club after having lost the first two," manager Grady Little said. "But I think people all around realize when the Red Sox are in town, we aren't going away."

The stars? How about Manny Ramirez waging a monumental, 10-pitch at-bat against Oakland's crackerjack closer Keith Foulke to launch a tying home run leading off the ninth? Ramirez was hitless in eight career at-bats against Foulke.

How about Alan Embree setting the stage for Ramirez's dramatic shot by retiring three straight batters after the A's, leading, 2-1, put runners at second and third with none out in the eighth?

Or Byung Hyun Kim pitching two perfect innings to pin down the victory, thanks in part to a sensational catch of Eric Chavez's ninth-inning drive to the right-field wall by Gabe Kapler?

Or the utility guys -- Kapler and Damian Jackson -- joining Johnny Damon to help manufacture the deciding run on Bill Mueller's sacrifice fly in the 10th?

Or . . . pick a player because many others made a difference.

"It's tremendously satisfying, especially in the fact that we won after dropping the first couple," said Kapler, who belly-dived across the plate on Mueller's sac fly. "You really start to feel like the games become a little more important even though in the big picture these two weren't any more important than the first two."

Tell that to Sox fans, particularly the panic-prone.

"Everybody was quick to criticize," Embree said, "but we're walking out with the same lead we had when we came in here, so it's a big boost for this team. You can never count us out."

Thanks to a sturdy effort from starter Tim Wakefield, who surrendered two runs over six innings, the Sox were able to overcome another sterling performance by an Oakland starter as lefthander Ted Lilly spotted them only one run on three hits and a pair of walks over six innings. Lilly held the Sox hitless for the first 3 1/3 innings and scoreless until Mueller uncoiled a solo homer with one out in the sixth to cut Boston's deficit to 2-1.

Scott Williamson stymied the A's in the seventh before Embree ran into danger in the eighth, allowing Ramon Hernandez and Scott Hatteberg to reach on consecutive singles to open the inning. When Ramirez misfired to third base trying to erase Hernandez, Hatteberg motored to second, seemingly opening the door for the A's to score at least an insurance run.

"I like it messy," Embree said, "but not that messy."

Still, he prevailed in an eight-pitch struggle with Frank Menechino, getting him to bounce out to third, before he fanned Eric Byrnes on three pitches and threw a 94-mile-per-hour heater past Billy McMillon to strand the runners.

"When you stop something like that," Embree said, "it gives you some momentum going into the next inning."

Seizing it, Ramirez confounded Foulke leading off the ninth, fouling off four straight full-count pitches before he swatted an 89-m.p.h. fastball over the left-field wall to tie the score.

"It was a great feeling," Damon said. "We were shocked that he saw a lot of fastballs. We thought for sure that great changeup was coming."

Soon, the Sox surged again as Kapler led off the 10th by legging out a grounder to short off Jim Mecir. After Jackson sacrificed Kapler to second, Damon sent him to third by lashing a single to right. And Mueller's fly to left-center was deep enough for Kapler to burst home with the go-ahead run. The Sox added another run when Chavez threw wildly from third on a grounder by Nomar Garciaparra, allowing Damon to sprint home.

And off they went to Seattle, emboldened as they braced for three games against the leaders in the AL West.

"We're a team that believes in ourselves," Damon said.

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