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Grand stand

Red Sox hold their ground with 6 in ninth

PHILADELPHIA -- Simple fact: The Red Sox yesterday urgently needed to start making some magic on the road. After all, their season could depend on it since they touched down on their day trip to Philly facing 15 of their final 26 games on the road after playing subpar away from home (32-34) the first five months of the season.

"It's something we've got to do," manager Grady Little said. "If we don't do it, we won't make it. We've got to do it."

Simple as that. And if it was magic the Sox needed, they pulled a rabbit out of their caps as they sprang a six-run surprise on the Phillies in the ninth inning and stole out of town after an exhilarating 13-9 victory before 61,068 at Veterans Stadium. The magician-in-chief, Trot Nixon, pulled off the greatest trick by swatting a grand slam off Berkshires native Turk Wendell with one out in the ninth to break a 9-9 deadlock for the Sox' 36th comeback victory and their 11th win after entering the final inning trailing.

"This is a wacky sport," said Nixon, who knocked in a career-high six runs. "But I think we know what lies ahead of us and what we need to do, and what we need to do is just win ballgames."

They won their latest without Manny Ramirez, who repeatedly told manager Grady Little and his coaches that he was too weak from his recent case of acute throat inflammation to play. Or even to pinch hit in the ninth inning, leaving it to Damian Jackson and Lou Merloni to step up in his absence.

"He's feeling better," Little said, "and he's going to let us know when he's ready to play."

With Ramirez as a spectator, the Sox trailed, 9-7, after an eight-inning donnybrook between the two playoff contenders -- a game similar to Philadelphia's brutal 6-5 victory in 13 innings June 21 at the Vet.

"It was a title fight, basically," said Alan Embree, who surrendered a two-run single to Jim Thome in the bottom of the eighth to stick the Sox in the 9-7 hole. "It seems like every game we've played here has not been for the faint-hearted."

So Doug Mirabelli came out swinging to lead off the ninth, waging the first of five straight tough at-bats against Philly closer Jose Mesa. After Mirabelli walked, Jackson moved him to second with a one-out single before Mesa wild-pitched them into scoring position, prompting an intentional walk to Nomar Garciaparra to load the bases.

The intentional pass made sense since Garciaparra was batting .583 (7 for 12) in his career against Mesa. It looked even better for the Phillies when Merloni strode to the plate rather than Ramirez.

"I wasn't thinking about it," Merloni said of Ramirez's possible emergence. "As far I knew, he wasn't going to be able to play today. I was getting myself ready to hit."

Merloni took a mighty cut, all right. And the ball rolled down the third base line, perfectly placed for an infield single that drove in Mirabelli to make it 9-8.

"I hit a ball 10 feet," he said, "and it worked out pretty good."

For the Sox, it also worked out well that Kevin Millar was able to battle Mesa's successor, Wendell, to a 3-and-2 count before drawing a walk to knock in Jackson with the tying run. And one pitch later, Wendell left a slider over the plate to Nixon, who launched it into the right-field grandstands for the seventh slam of his career and second of the season.

Nixon's blast, after he was hit on the right hand with a pitch in the eighth inning (he said he was fine), was just the latest reminder of Boston's explosive resilience.

"It doesn't take much to get them ignited," Little said, "and it sure happened out there today."

The Sox overcame a rocky start by Jeff Suppan (six runs on 10 hits and three walks over six innings), though he helped himself by holding the Phillies scoreless in the fifth and sixth.

"I think location was the key for me today," Suppan said. "I missed a few times, and when I was missing it cost me some runs."

The Sox got them back thanks to Nixon and the likes of David Ortiz (2 for 3 with a pair of walks and a key two-run double in the eighth inning), Johnny Damon (1 for 3 with three walks and two runs), and Millar (a single, two walks, and two RBIs). But every position player chipped in except the newly called-up Bill Haselman and Ramirez.

Of all the comeback victories this year, Todd Walker said, "This was by far the best."

It was so sweet for the Sox that it hardly mattered that it came as they started a four-city, nine-game road trip.

"That's just a big win no matter where it is, home or away," Merloni said. "Hopefully, that can carry over and we can finish up and have a good solid road trip."

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