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Scratch test for Red Sox

Their three sacrifice flies are just enough to beat NY

NEW YORK -- Imagine winning a football game without making a first down. Or beating a basketball opponent without logging an assist.

The Red Sox staged a comparable feat yesterday as they turned Yankee Stadium into one big room of gloom for their pinstriped rivals, winning a baseball game despite going 0 for 19 with runners in scoring position. To gauge the magnitude of the 0-fer, consider that no other major league team has won a game with such a show of futility in the 30 years since statistics were first kept for batting with runners in scoring position. (The Pirates also went hitless in 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position June 11, 1977, according to Stats Inc., but the Bucs lost, 4-1, to the Padres.)

"It's frustrating during the course of a game," Johnny Damon said after the Sox parlayed three sacrifice flies, including Mark Bellhorn's difference-maker with one out in the 12th inning, into an unusual 3-2 victory over the tailspinning Yanks.

"But right now we don't give a darn about that stat," Damon said. "We won."

A day after the Sox pounded their way to an 11-2 triumph, they zapped the Empire for the fifth time in six tries with pitching. Nasty pitching. First, Bronson Arroyo breezed through six-plus innings before he departed amid a 2-2 deadlock. Then four Sox relievers -- Scott Williamson, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, and Mike Timlin -- combined to pitch six hitless innings as they extended the pen's scoreless streak to 22 2/3 innings.

"We have the type of bullpen that can go out and pick up four, five, or six innings," said Foulke, who has provided the dominant force the Sox lacked last year at the back of the pen. "And we showed it today."

By outlasting Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera, the two most feared arms in the Yankee pen, the Sox relief corps cleared the way for the winning rally in the 12th inning of the four-hour, five-minute standoff. Manny Ramirez set the table when he doubled to right-center leading off against Paul Quantrill. Ramirez motored to third when Jason Varitek grounded out to extend the hitless streak with runners in scoring position to 19 at-bats. And Ramirez scored when Bellhorn whistled a sac fly to center off Quantrill.

Ramirez had knocked in Damon with a sac fly in the first inning and Pokey Reese had done the honors in the second to drive in Kevin Millar with the other Sox run. The Yankees scored only on Alex Rodriguez's homer in the fourth inning and Gary Sheffield's RBI single in the seventh.

"You never know what's going to happen," said Ramirez, who has played in 1,400 games and had never seen such misfortune with runners in scoring position. "But we know we've got a good team. We just have to go out there and keep battling."

It paid off thanks to Arroyo, who matched Yankee ace Kevin Brown for the second time in five days. And thanks to Williamson, who rescued Arroyo with runners at first and second with none out amid the 2-2 tie in the seventh. Williamson extinguished the threat by getting Bernie Williams to ground into a double play, with Reese making a sensational play to handle the turn as Travis Lee barreled into him.

"I was cheering them on when it was hit," said Williamson, who played with Reese in Cincinnati. "It was a tougher double play than people think it was, but I've seen Pokey do that many times." While the Sox offense sputtered, Embree chipped in by shutting down the Yankees in the eighth and ninth as he worked two innings of relief for the first time since June 23. Then manager Terry Francona summoned his closer, Foulke, to handle the 10th and 11th. Francona opted against holding Foulke for a possible save situation.

"That holding stuff is not going to happen," Francona said. "I got here at 8:30, and we stayed out there all day. When you have a chance to win a game, you try to win."

So it was that Timlin pitched a perfect 12th to post his first save, also since June 23. And it all came as little surprise to the relievers involved.

"You've got to look at the guys we have in this bullpen," Williamson said. "We have a lot of outstanding pitchers who have been closers and really good relievers for long periods of time. I think it makes it easier on each guy when you know you have someone who can come in and pick you up if you happen to falter. That's a really big deal because it takes a lot of the pressure off of you."

It also eased the pressure on the Sox offense, which remains erratic, especially late in games. Without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, two of their top hitters, especially in the clutch, the Sox are batting only .212 this season after the sixth inning.

"Every win right now counts even more," Varitek said. "They're extremely important right now because we're working our way back to health. Those guys are very missed in our offense, but on the other side we executed a lot of pitches today and did a very nice job."

Nice enough to vault 3 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees, with Pedro Martinez scheduled to start the series finale today. It's only April, but things could be worse.

"It's always good to beat the Yankees," Embree said. "I don't think it's any different from how we approached them last year. We had a lot of confidence. It's just that we have more pitching this year. Adding Keith and Curt [Schilling] gives us that much more confidence."

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