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A double take in the 2-hole

The game had just been tied, 1-1, and Nomar Garciaparra -- as in, the slumping Nomar Garciaparra -- stepped into the batter's box to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. Before the first pitch, Todd Walker, batting behind Garciaparra (that is not a misprint) turned to Red Sox manager Grady Little and suggested some strategy.

"I told him, `When Nomar hits this double right here, I think I'm better off just hitting the ball to the right side, rather than bunting,' " Walker said. "You just kind of figure it's going to happen that way because that's what Nomar does. And, sure enough, he hits a double and it went like I said."

Did he really say when Nomar hits this double, and not if Nomar hits this double?

"I might have said `if,' " he said. "But make it `when.' That sounds better."

At this point, Garciaparra will take when, if, whatever, however, anything . . .

His double in that situation last night began a two-run rally that led to the Red Sox' 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay. It was his 36th double of the season and the 271st of his career, moving him past Joe Cronin into ninth place on the Red Sox all-time list. (He needs four more to tie Mike Greenwell for eighth.) It also was his first double since Aug. 30, a span of 13 games, and it was the team's only extra-base hit of the evening.

And it came out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

Like everyone else, Little had seen his stud shortstop in a ridiculous slump. Garciaparra entered last night with just four hits in his last 35 at-bats, and one of those hits was a debatable scoring call Monday night. His batting average had dropped to .308, the lowest it had been since May 31. So Little decided to move Garciaparra up a notch in the order, flip-flopping him with Walker.

"This might just take his mind off something else and good things will happen," Little said. "I feel good about it. Only time will tell. But anything can happen when he comes to the plate."

Walker joked afterward about telling Garciaparra that he would see a lot of easy pitches because the pitchers "were scared to death of me." But the move seemed to work. After a first-inning ground out, Garciaparra reached base the next three times, collecting two walks off starter Jeremi Gonzalez -- only Garciaparra's 36th and 37th walks in 618 at-bats -- and then hitting the double off loser Travis Harper.

"That was huge," Garciaparra said. "The whole inning was huge. Everyone did their job."

Asked about the timing of Garciaparra's double, Little said, "I tell you what, this kid seems to be getting going and I think the key to his whole night was the two walks he took. The second walk was one of the better at-bats he has ever had. And that may be just what he needed to get started."

In addition to his slump, Garciaparra also has been bothered by a bug lately. Asked how he felt, he said, "I'm getting there." He then paused and asked, "Do I sound better?"

In typical fashion, he downplayed any deeper meaning behind the flip-flop with Walker.

"I don't pay any attention to any of that," he said. "I don't think about that, I just go out there and see and hit. That's my philosophy from beginning to end."

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