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Cowboy's up

Red-hot Millar sparks outburst in rout of Devil Rays

Call him selfish if you must. But you might want to think twice before begrudging Kevin Millar the right to lobby to have his name on the lineup card, especially when he's swinging the bat like this.

Millar, who has had a bull's-eye on his back since he publicly protested his omission from the Sox lineup Saturday in Detroit, went 4 for 4 last night, including a three-run home run in the first inning that propelled the Sox to a 14-4 rout of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway Park.

"Sometimes you need that stuff," Millar said of the flak he has taken. "If I've got to wear it, I'll wear it. If I've got to take that land mine, I will.

"But everybody in this clubhouse knows I'm 100 percent opposite of selfish. My teammates have always been No. 1 with me. I'm not selfish. I'm about winning ballgames.

"I said some things, I apologized, and [manager Terry Francona] has been great about it. He said turn the page, and we have."

The Sox matched their season high in runs, scoring 14 for the third time this season. David Ortiz, with an RBI double in the seventh, reached the 100-RBI mark for the second consecutive season, while Jason Varitek drove home four runs with two doubles.

Varitek's four RBIs matched his career high. In his last dozen games, he's batting .400 (14 for 35), with 3 home runs, 9 RBIs, and 10 runs scored. Millar said Varitek took a cue from him and opened his stance, a la Miguel Olivo, the Seattle Mariners catcher who inspired Millar to make the adjustments that have made him lethal of late.

"Pretty soon we'll all be open," Millar said.

Millar, who has been widely panned for being a me-first guy for his outburst, says his critics have it all wrong: Sure, he admits, he should have aired his complaints behind closed doors to Francona, but his annoyance had nothing to do with what was best for him. Simply put, in his view the Sox had a better chance of winning with him occupied anywhere but on the bench.

Skeptics may roll their eyes -- the Cowboy Up inspiration was being cast as the Cowboy Shut Up irritant -- but Millar has made a compelling case at the plate. Since the team returned home Monday night, Millar has seven hits in three games. In addition to his home run last night, he contributed singles in the second and third innings, and a double in the fifth, when he was replaced by pinch runner Gabe Kapler.

In his last 19 games, dating to his explosive weekend against the Yankees, Millar is batting .477 (31 for 65), with 7 home runs, 20 RBIs, and 18 runs scored. With the addition of newcomer Doug Mientkiewicz, the plan may be to severely curtail Millar's time at first base, but Francona may be compelled to find a place for his bat.

Millar, who hit .373 in July, is batting .306 on the season, 40 percentage points higher than the .266 he was hitting after going 0 for 6 July 1. And while he may not approach the career-high 96 RBIs he had last season, he's no longer languishing behind the light-hitting Pokey Reese in run production, as he was before he went on his tear.

What helped him in the lowest of times, Millar said, was his friendship with Kapler, who sits next to him in the Sox clubhouse. They each have autographed color photos of the other hanging in their lockers.

"That man has been the biggest help for me -- he's been a tremendous friend and teammate, I'll tell you that," Millar said. "We've had a lot of talks, a lot of lunches on the road. He's as tough mentally as anyone I've ever met.

"I don't know where I'd be without him."

The Sox, who had not had a double-digit win since beating the Oakland A's, 11-0, July 6 in Fenway, put away the D-Rays before a good portion of the crowd of 35,091, the 54th straight sellout, had settled in its seats.

After Johnny Damon led off with a single and Manny Ramirez was hit by a pitch, Millar hit his 12th home run of the season into the Monster seats.

The Sox batted around in the second inning against D-Rays starter Dewon Brazelton, scoring five times, then tacked on five more in the third against Brazelton and reliever Jeremi Gonzalez.

Every starter in the Sox lineup reached base. Every starter had at least a hit except Ramirez (0 for 2, hit by pitch, walk) and Orlando Cabrera, who ended each of the first three innings and was 0 for 4.

By the fifth inning, both Francona and Lou Piniella of the D-Rays began liberally substituting, making this look like a March exercise in Fort Myers.

Before he was excused, Damon reached base on all four of his plate appearances, with two singles, a two-run double, and a walk. Mientkiewicz matched a career high by scoring three times, and had a double and an RBI single.

Ortiz drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the second, then reached 100 RBIs with his double that scored Mientkiewicz in the seventh.

Sox starter Derek Lowe spotted the D-Rays a 1-0 lead on Carl Crawford's single and stolen base, and Aubrey Huff's double in the first, then held Tampa scoreless in the sixth, when he gave up two more runs before departing with a recurrence of his blister problem.

"I've got to try to find some skin specialist somewhere in the United States to find the cure," said a frustrated Lowe, who evened his record at 10-10. "This is about the 15th time this has happened in the last three years."

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