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Red Sox feeling the power

They overcome barrage, helped by their own HRs

DETROIT -- Life as the Red Sox knew it changed in the 14 days since they last stepped foot in Fenway Park. In one of the most tumultuous road trips in franchise history, they jettisoned their franchise shortstop (Nomar Garciaparra), lost their No. 2 run scorer (Mark Bellhorn) to a fractured thumb, endured a five-day suspension of their RBI leader (David Ortiz), and survived a two-game medical leave by their home run leader (Manny Ramirez), yet arrived home last night with a retooled team that maybe, just maybe, has begun to find its stride.

Meet the new Sox, maybe a little better than the old Sox.

Unlike the old Sox, who foundered on the road, the new guys finished 6-5 on the four-city, 4,251-mile odyssey as they overcame a record-setting home run barrage against Tim Wakefield and outblasted the Tigers, 11-9, before 40,098 at Comerica Park. They returned home sharing the wild-card lead with the Rangers and Angels as they prepared to open a 10-game homestand in the Fens tonight.

The post-Nomar era in Boston will begin with three new players on the roster: shortstop Orlando Cabrera, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, and outfielder Dave Roberts.

"It's going to be interesting, with a bunch of new faces," said Johnny Damon, who went 3 for 5, including a two-run triple, to help spare Wakefield from defeat. "The fans need to adapt and get to the gift shops and get some new jerseys."

As the calendar turns and a restless fandom anxiously awaits a solid run of success, the Sox also were poised to face an even greater level of scrutiny than when they departed, as if the previous level were not high enough. The jury still may be out on the blockbuster four-team trade involving Garciaparra and whether the revamped team can improve on the performance of the old Sox.

The new crew has a prime opportunity to take off as it plays 20 of its next 26 games in the friendly Fens.

"We know it's going to be a tough homestand," said Gabe Kapler, who went 3 for 4, scored two runs, and knocked in another. "We understand that there's going to be some edginess to Boston as a whole when we get home and we're prepared for it."

They need to sustain the kind of resilience they flashed in surging back twice from deficits against the Tigers, with Kevin Youkilis (3 for 4 with two homers and a sac fly) and Ortiz (a three-run homer) leading the way.

"We have to play better than we have been," said Ortiz, who is now tied with Ramirez for the team lead in homers with 28. "We've got to bring it if we want to be in competition later. We have to come out there against everybody with the same attitude we play with against the Yankees. That's the only way we're going to make it. Our intensity is different against the Yankees, and I don't know why. We've got to keep [the intensity] that way."

The Sox started the trip splitting a rain-shortened two-game series in Baltimore before they lost two of three to the Twins in one of the most momentous weekends in Sox lore, as Garciaparra bid the franchise farewell.

But the new Sox finished the trek by going 4-2 against the Devil Rays and Tigers.

"I wish we would have won every game," manager Terry Francona said. "But we won these last two, and it should give us momentum. We feel good about ourselves. We've got a long homestand. Now it's up to us to take advantage of it."

Though Wakefield matched a post-1900 major league record by surrendering six home runs, the Sox helped him become the first pitcher since 1932 to do so and pick up a win. They rallied from homer-induced deficits of 1-0, 3-2, and 6-3 as they banged out 14 hits, including the homers by Youkilis and Ortiz.

"The Sox are back," Damon said. "We're playing aggressive, we're swinging the bats, we're playing defense, we're doing everything."

They did it all in a pivotal six-run fourth inning as they batted around to seize a 9-6 lead, putting them ahead to stay. Damon's triple and Ortiz's blast were the big blows, but the guys at the bottom of the order got things rolling as Bill Mueller reached on an error by center fielder Alex Sanchez and Kapler singled for the second of his three hits.

"When a pitcher is battling and you have an opportunity to come up with something nice and put him back ahead, it feels really good," Kapler said. "Those are the most gratifying times because you know that [the pitchers] pick you up more times than not."

Wakefield was grateful, indeed, both to Francona for sticking with him after he surrendered five homers in the first three innings and to the offense for rallying behind him. He improved to 8-6 with a 4.48 ERA.

"This was a tough road trip we had," Wakefield said, "and I'm sure everyone is glad to get on a plane and go home."

They could thank Ramiro Mendoza in part for the pleasant flight home. Mendoza, who had not pitched since the first game of the trip 13 days earlier, steadied the sea after Wakefield's stormy outing, holding the Tigers scoreless over 1 2/3 innings as the Sox built a 10-7 lead.

Mendoza has gone 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA while holding batters to a .219 average in seven appearances since he returned from the disabled list July 15.

"He looks to me like he's trying to prove he belongs," Francona said. "He's sinking the ball and he's very effective. That was the key to me, we kind of slowed it down right there."

Mendoza helped take the sting out of Eric Munson tagging Mike Timlin in the eighth inning for a two-run homer, lifting the Tigers within striking distance, 11-9. Timlin, who has been taxed heavily in recent weeks, has surrendered seven runs in five innings over his last seven appearances.

Good thing Keith Foulke delivered, retiring the Tigers in order in the ninth for his 18th save.

"It was important for us to win this game," Kapler said, "to come out with a lot of energy and go home feeling good about ourselves."

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