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Yanked into reality

Division odds getting longer

After they plunged 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees last night, the Red Sox faced the prospect of shifting their focus from winning the American League East to surviving the wild-card scramble.

"Oakland's the team we need to try to pull away from," Johnny Damon said after the A's nipped the Sox, 3-2, in the Fens. "The Yankees are going to be tough to catch. They seem to pour it on this time of year."

With 37 games to play, the Yankees seized a seven-game edge in the loss column by defeating the Royals, 6-3. The Sox trail the A's by one game in the wild-card standings.

In the aftermath of the disappointing loss, no one in the Sox clubhouse was ready to write off the team's chances of catching the Yankees, though no one seemed particularly enthusiastic about the possibility. The Sox play the Yankees six more times -- three in Boston and three in the Bronx -- by Sept. 7.

"I think we're going to have to go in and play big and win them," Alan Embree said.

All of them?

"There's room, but not much," he said. "We just have to win games and get into the playoffs, either by the division or the wild card, flat out. Winning the East would be a plus, but we're just concerned about getting in."

Hudson says he's OK

The bruise that Tim Hudson sustained Saturday when hit by a line drive on his pitching hand appears unlikely to keep the righthander from facing Pedro Martinez in the series finale tomorrow.

"I don't see why it should be any problem," said Hudson, who masterfully outdueled Martinez last Monday. "There really hasn't been much swelling, just a little puffiness along the fingers and knuckles. It's still a little sore and a little stiff in some places, but it's coming along pretty well right now."

Hudson handcuffed the Sox in Oakland, allowing only two infield singles in a 4-0 work of art.

"It was definitely a special night for me," he said. "Do I expect to go out and do that again? No. I mean, probably not, but if I can go out there and be on top of my game, I feel like I'm going to give my team a chance to win."

Martinez was flip-flopped with Jeff Suppan to pitch tomorrow on four days of rest rather than Friday. He leads the league with a 2.32 ERA, with Hudson ranked second at 2.48. "It's obviously a huge game," Hudson said. "It's going to be exciting. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

Rationing walks

Without fanfare, Mike Timlin is quietly accomplishing one of the most impressive feats among relief pitchers in years. Timlin has walked only five batters in 69 innings, an average of 0.65 per nine innings, best in the majors. If Timlin maintains that pace, it would be the best ratio since Dennis Eckersley walked only four batters in 73 1/3 innings for a 0.49 mark with the A's in 1990. "That's difficult to do," Eckersley said. "My job was different in the ninth inning because you're really conscious of not walking people, but when you come in at any given time like he does, it's harder to do. It really is." . . . When Nomar Garciaparra struck out looking on three pitches with none out and runners at first and second base in the first inning, it marked the first time this season he has gone down looking in consecutive at-bats. He also was called out on strikes with two outs and runners at second and third in the eighth inning Sunday in Seattle . . . For the first time since April 19, Derek Lowe did not allow an earned run. It was only the third time this season he did not walk a batter . . . Damon (2 for 2 with a pair of walks) has hit .325 since the All-Star break . . . Jason Varitek (0 for 4) is hitless in 18 at-bats over his last six games . . . Manny Ramirez grounded into two double plays to tie Chicago's Paul Konerko for the league lead with 20. Overall, the Sox grounded into three double plays, one shy of their season high for a game.

No hurry

The Sox do not plan to rush back Brandon Lyon, who pitched a 1-2-3 inning Monday night in his second rehab outing for Triple A Pawtucket. Lyon (right elbow soreness) will make a few more appearances for the PawSox before he returns, Little said. The same goes for Ramiro Mendoza (right knee tendinitis), whose return will hinge on him proving he is effective enough to help the parent club . . . No matter how far the Saugus Little Leaguers go in the World Series, the Sox will honor them Tuesday at Fenway Park, just as they honored the Little League team from Worcester last year. The Saugus crew received an inspirational phone call from Garciaparra, Todd Jones, and Suppan before the Series. The Sox also have made room on the left-field scoreboard to track the Saugus scores. The board last night showed the results of the local team's 4-3 victory Monday over Boynton Beach, Fla.

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