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Once again, Wakefield a steady hand

OAKLAND, Calif. -- He ended up only a footnote, but Tim Wakefield once again pitched well enough to launch the Red Sox toward victory. Wakefield, who is 3-0 with a 3.90 ERA over his last five outings, kept the Sox within reach by limiting the A's to only two runs over six innings despite some early difficulty with plate umpire Kevin Kelley's strike zone.

Wakefield stranded three runners in scoring position over the first two innings yesterday and held the A's scoreless until the fifth, when they strung together three straights hits: Jose Guillen's infield single, Eric Chavez's double, and Miguel Tejada's two-run single. The knuckleballer, who allowed five hits, four walks, and matched a season high with eight strikeouts, helped the Sox staff hold the A's to a .221 batting average over the four games.

"He threw a couple of pitches in that one inning he kind of wished he could have back," manager Grady Little said, "but he kept us right there in the game with a chance to come back and win."

Actually, Wakefield said he only regrets his misplaced pitch to Tejada. He was generally satisfied with the others. And though he took issue with a few of Kelley's calls, he did not consider them damaging.

"None of the calls I was complaining about early in the game really affected me," Wakefield said. "I made one bad pitch to Tejada and they ended up scoring two runs on it. Other than that, I felt like I pitched pretty good."

Wakefield has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his last 13 starts, dropping his ERA to 4.10 from 5.35.

Action for Jackson

Look for Damian Jackson, who made a key contribution to the 4-2 victory, to play second base considerably more in the final weeks of the season, particularly if Todd Walker is unable to extricate himself from his prolonged slump. Jackson especially has impressed Little with his defense, an attribute that is expected to become increasingly crucial the deeper the Sox get in the pennant race.

"Infield defense is important this time of year in particular," Little said. "You can't afford to be giving away outs, and Damian Jackson has done a great job for us wherever we play him. He'll probably be getting utilized a lot from now on."

Jackson, who started his second straight game at second base, has more range than Walker and a strong arm. He has started seven games at the position this year and played there in 19 overall, committing one error. Walker has started 102 games at second and appeared in 105, making 12 errors.

Walker could make a case for more playing time if not for his slump. Since he reached his season high of .327 June 4, Walker has hit only .230 (with a .279 on-base percentage) to slip to .273. He entered the season as a career .292 hitter.

Little said Walker will return to the lineup tonight against Seattle's Jamie Moyer.

"We feel like letting him take a couple of days off so he can get a lot of things off his mind and go in with a fresh start in Seattle is probably going to help him," Little said.

Jackson went 0 for 3 but executed a sacrifice bunt in the 10th inning to help manufacture the go-ahead run. Even if he does not start regularly at second base down the stretch, he will be sent in often as a defensive replacement, Little indicated.

Cooling off period

After tearing up Fenway Park on the last homestand to win American League Player of the Week honors and improve his home average to a league-leading .392, Nomar Garciaparra has dipped again on the road. He went 2 for 16 in the series as his road average dropped to .251. Of course, he faced an A's staff that held the Sox to a .214 average over the four games . . . The Sox improved to 8-5 in extra-inning games after coming back for the third time in 43 games when they trailed after eight innings . . . The bullpen, which pitched four scoreless innings, has posted a 1.54 ERA over its last 23 1/3 innings, allowing only four earned runs . . . When Kevin Millar went deep Wednesday for his 20th homer of the season (matching his career high), he became the fifth Sox player this season with 20 homers, tying a franchise record. The others are Manny Ramirez (28), Garciaparra (22), Trot Nixon (22), and Jason Varitek (20). The last time five Sox players stroked 20 or more homers in a season was 1984: Tony Armas (43), Dwight Evans (32), Jim Rice (28), Mike Easler (27), and Rich Gedman (24). The Sox also had five players with 20 or more homers in 1940, 1977, and 1979. The current team has a chance to set the record since David Ortiz has 16 homers and Bill Mueller hit his 15th yesterday. Mueller, Millar, and Varitek each had tied or bettered their career highs in homers. Mueller also has knocked in a career-high 61 runs . . . Millar had never faced the vaunted A's pitching staff before he stepped in Monday against Tim Hudson. "It's a whole new experience getting in the box and seeing those guys pitch," he said. "After Hudson, I was about ready to retire." . . . Righthander Brandon Lyon completed his second bullpen session in three days, then departed before the game for Pawtucket, where he will make a rehab outing in the next couple of days. His fellow righthander, Ramiro Mendoza, also is scheduled to make a rehab start this weekend for the PawSox . . . The Sox are counting on Jeff Suppan to step up his game after two straight subpar outings since they acquired him from the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez. Suppan, who is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA in the two starts after going 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA for Pittsburgh, has lacked the command he needs to succeed. "He's a lot like Burkie," Little said, referring to John Burkett. "They're similar types of pitchers and their control has to be pretty much pinpoint to be really effective." Little said the Sox "know [Suppan] is better than what he has shown in his first two starts."

Red Sox-Mariners series thumbnails
at Safeco Field, Seattle

* Records: Boston is 70-51 (second in the AL East); Seattle is 73-48 (first in the AL West).

Pitching matchups

* Tonight (10:05, Ch. 38 or NESN, WEEI 850): LHP Jamie Moyer (15-5, 3.50 ERA) vs. RHP Jeff Suppan (0-1, 9.53).

* Tomorrow (4:05 p.m., Ch. 25, WEEI): RHP Joel Pineiro (13-7, 3.48) vs. RHP Pedro Martinez (8-3, 2.37).

* Sunday (4:05 p.m., NESN, WEEI): RHP Freddy Garcia (10-12, 5.28) vs. RHP John Burkett (9-6, 4.92).

Head to head

This is the first of two series with Seattle. The Mariners begin a four-game set at Fenway Aug. 22.


Seattle's Bret Boone is third in the American League with 95 RBIs. Boone also leads the Mariners with 29 home runs . . . Ichiro Suzuki leads the AL in batting (.342) and hits (171) . . . Seattle has won four of its last five games . . . Seattle tops the majors with 14 shutouts, two by Pineiro.

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