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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Foulke receives higher calling

The new Red Sox closer, Keith Foulke, became a diehard hockey fan at age 7 after watching the American team's miracle victory in the 1980 Olympics. By then, Bruins great Bobby Orr was newly retired. But No. 4's legacy never was lost on Foulke, who received a surprise call from the hockey legend earlier this month as Foulke wavered over whether to sign with the Sox or remain with the A's.

 

Orr's message was brief: "If you win in this town, you're forever idolized here."

And it was compelling. "That kind of gave me chills," Foulke said, "and made me excited about playing here."

Foulke, who was introduced yesterday at Fenway Park after signing a three-year contract with an option for 2007 that could reach $27 million, cited Orr's persuasive message as "one of those nice little selling points" that made the difference in his deliberations. But Boston's new closer, who also received an authentic Orr jersey, never got a chance to personally thank the hockey Hall of Famer.

"I was too scared to call him back," he said.

No need to worry about the fear factor, however, when Foulke steps to the mound.

"Intimidation is a setup for failure," he said. "I don't get intimidated by anybody."

Sox general manager Theo Epstein thoroughly researched Foulke, who has ranked among the game's most dominant relievers the last five years. And he had a separate message for Foulke in persuading him to help tip the balance of power in the American League East.

"We see you as a real weapon in helping us win games," Epstein said. "We're going to try to pitch you as much as possible in as many important innings as possible and have you impact as many games as possible."

Foulke, 31, led the league last season in saves (43), relief wins (9), and games finished (67). He pitched more innings (86 2/3) than any Sox reliever, three more than Boston's leader, Mike Timlin. And he is comfortable with incoming manager Terry Francona, who served as Oakland's bench coach last season.

"He has a lot of enthusiasm," Foulke said. "He's going to make it fun, but at times, when tails need to be jumped, I definitely think he's got that in him."

As for the lingering possibility Manny Ramirez will be traded for Alex Rodriguez -- and Nomar Garciaparra for Magglio Ordonez -- Foulke had no problem with either eventuality.

"The way I see it, you have four All-Stars involved and two of them are going to be on my team either way," he said. "It's a win-win situation. Whatever happens, I'll have two great players behind me."

Closing in on Reese

Barring a last-minute snag, the Sox plan to sign defensive whiz Pokey Reese by early next week and make him their everyday second baseman. Reese, 30, could be a bargain, especially if the Sox meet their goal of landing him at considerably less than the $2.5 million he earned last season with the Pirates. A two-time National League Gold Glover with the Reds, Reese also is a dazzling defensive shortstop who could back up Garciaparra or Rodriguez. Reese could be spelled by Mark Bellhorn, who could provide more offensive punch. Reese is a career .251 hitter with a .310 on-base percentage. But in addition to vastly upgrading the infield defense, he would provide base-stealing ability and a positive force in the clubhouse . . . With Reese and Bellhorn on board, the Sox are all but certain to let Damian Jackson become a free agent by declining to tender him a contract by tonight's deadline. The Sox have until midnight to tender contracts to 22 unsigned players on their 40-man roster or let them enter free agency. Nine of the 22 are eligible for salary arbitration: Trot Nixon (who earned $4 million last season), Gabe Kapler ($3.4 million), Byung Hyun Kim ($3.25 million), Scott Williamson ($1.6 million), Scott Sauerbeck ($1.56 million), David Ortiz ($1.25 million), Doug Mirabelli ($805,000), Jackson ($625,000), and Lou Merloni ($560,000). Of the nine, the Sox appear poised to reach an agreement only with Mirabelli on a one-year deal. Nixon and Ortiz will be tendered contracts as the team tries to strike multiyear deals with them. The Sox also will tender contracts to Kim and Williamson, with Kim on track to serve as the fifth starter next season and Williamson likely to be moved in a trade before then. Kapler is unlikely to be tendered a contract, though the Sox could try to sign him as a free agent at a lower rate . . . Amid the frenzied pace of the A-Rod talks, Epstein made little progress in working with agent Fernando Cuza on multiyear deals for Pedro Martinez and Ortiz. "I've chatted with him, but we haven't done any real substantive work," Epstein said. "We'll work on it more next week." . . . The A-Rod negotiations also were expected to delay the announcement of next season's coaching staff until next week . . . Epstein is closing in on his 30th birthday, Dec. 29. "I was hoping you wouldn't notice," he told reporters. "I'm getting old."

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