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Pinch was nearly felt

Lifting Ramirez a calculated risk

So, what would have happened if Todd Walker had walked in the ninth inning with first base open and Adrian Brown, who had run for Manny Ramirez in the previous inning, due to bat?

Lou Merloni would have gotten the call to pinch hit, manager Grady Little said.

And of course, Little added, it's never easy to take out your best hitter for a runner in the late innings, as he did when he inserted Brown for Ramirez after Manny's leadoff single in the eighth with the Sox down, 3-2.

"It's a tough one," he said, "but gol'dang, we needed one run and you got a guy sitting over there who can steal one base for you for sure and maybe two, just like Brown did."

Brown stole second and third, but Orioles reliever Jorge Julio got out of it by striking out Kevin Millar and retiring Bill Mueller on a deep drive to center.

"You got the tying run on third with less than two out, gol'dang," Little said. "Sure, that's your big fear, and what makes it a tough call, that you may go 13 or 14 innings and you don't have Manny, but you got to get to that point first."

Job got done

Scott Sauerbeck finally had an inning he could be proud of, working out of a two-on, two-out jam of his own making in the eighth by striking out Jack Cust. "I told myself on that 3-and-2 pitch, `All right, this is it,' " said the reliever. " `Either you're going to make this pitch and go on from here or you're not.' So it was do or die. That was my season, right there, on that one pitch. And that was the pitch I've been struggling with. Thank God it was there [a sidearm curveball]. I got it done, that pitch." . . . With a sellout crowd of 33,723, the Sox broke their attendance record, set last season. With two games left to be played in the Fens, the Olde Towne Team has drawn 2,655,029 . . . With water rushing into the dugout and backing up knee-deep in the runway leading to the clubhouse, and huge puddles in the outfield, the Sox came close to calling off the game even before the gates were opened. But the skies cleared, and after vice president of stadium operations Joe McDermott toured the field with CEO Larry Lucchino and Little, the decision was made to proceed. Groundskeeper Dave Mellor and his crew worked furiously to create a playable surface. The dugouts were pumped out, water was swept out of the $200 seats, loads of sand were dumped everywhere, and while there were soggy patches, the field was manageable. By first pitch (7:05 p.m.), the temperature was 67 degrees, the sky was clear, and the seats filled.

Stolen glances

Sox stat guru Glenn Geffner dug up another gem last night. With one more stolen base, Johnny Damon will become the first Sox player in 89 years to have successive 30-steal seasons. Only two Sox have accomplished the feat: Hall of Famer Tris Speaker did it twice (1909-10 and 1912-14), while Harry Hooper did it in 1910-11. Damon is bidding for the 18th 30-steal season in Sox history; by himself, Rickey Henderson, who did one tour of duty here, had 17 seasons in which he stole 30 or more bases. Damon was hoping his next stolen base would not be a duplicate of his last. Monday night, he stole successfully, only to be tagged out returning to first base becase he thought Ramirez had fouled off the pitch. Damon said he was lulled into thinking that because the crowd didn't respond to his successful theft of the bag . . .

When the Orioles make up their washed-out game from last week against the Yankees -- in Yankee Stadium Friday night instead of Camden Yards -- they will not get an extra cent from the gate, according to an Orioles official . . . Trot Nixon did not start last night, Little said, not only because the Orioles had a lefty (Eric Dubose) on the hill, but because he didn't want to risk Nixon aggravating his calf injury on the wet track. Nixon pinch hit for Gabe Kapler in the ninth and took over in right . . . The Sox have increased attendance in each of the last six seasons, the only big-league club to do so . . . Tim Wakefield became the first Sox pitcher to surpass 200 innings this season. It's the first time Wakefield has carried this heavy a workload since 1998. In his last 19 starts, the Sox have scored two runs or fewer when he was in the game 10 times, one run or fewer on eight occasions.

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