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Middle management

Timlin's effort buoys Wakefield and the Red Sox

TORONTO -- The life of the setup reliever, lived to the fullest here last night by Mike Timlin, is rarely rewarded in the box score with the capital `S' (as in save, or seal of approval).

But the Red Sox pulled out a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Jays at SkyDome, and although closer Keith Foulke officially recorded the `S', nobody saved the night more than the towering Timlin.

"You're hoping there that he can limit the damage as much as possible," said Sox starter Tim Wakefield (10-7), who surrendered the ball to Timlin in the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and no one out. "But for him to get out of that without giving up a run . . . I mean, that's huge -- just huge."

All in all, it was a night of huge, opportunistic moments for the Sox, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win for the 15th time in their last 21 outings. To wit:

* Manny Ramirez drilled an opposite-field single in the fifth inning, good for a pair of runs that cut the Jays' lead to 3-2. It also brought Ramirez his 99th and 100th RBIs, and he now has reached the 30 HR/100 RBI plateau for seven straight seasons.

* Everyday catcher Doug Mirabelli, making his second straight start in place of the suspended Jason Varitek, hammered a three-run homer in the sixth that put the Sox ahead, 5-3. The mammoth clout, estimated at 421 feet, clanged off the scoreboard high above the left-field wall. Had he hit it in the Back Bay's emerald bandbox, it would have cleared the Monster seats, the Charles River, and rolled through Canadian customs on no more than one or two hops. "You get into a ball like that," mused Mirabelli, "and you know it."

* Timlin, ushered in from the bullpen earlier than usual, entered with the bases juiced only so many blinks of an eye after the Mirabelli moonshot. Ten Gallon Timlin, born in Midland, Texas, fired 1-and-2 fastballs past Reed Johnson and Orlando Hudson for strikeouts and then coaxed a forceout of Alex Rios. Three hitters, 13 pitches, 10 for strikes, and a nostalgic dash of Dick Radatz as Timlin left the mound with arms pumping.

"I wouldn't say it was adrenaline overflow," said Timlin. "But as a middle reliever, there are some things you want to do, and one of them is to not let runs score. And there were three of them out there. That doesn't happen very often."

What's happening with greater frequency these days is Red Sox success in one-run games. They've won three one-run contests in a row now, and four of their last five. There is no sure path to winning the World Series (anyone in the Nation picked that up by now?), but one-run wins inch clubs closer to the title. More nights like last night from Timlin no doubt would post a few more one-run wins.

"What he did was incredible," said Sox skipper Terry Francona, who'll throw Curt Schilling out here tonight for the series wrapup before the Sox return to the Hub of Hardball to face the Tigers. "Almost better than what he did, though, was how he threw the ball. That's as good as I've seen him throw it."

Wakefield, who plugged along with 102 pitches through five-plus innings, surrendered the ball to Timlin after giving up a leadoff walk to Gregg Zaun, watching Gabe Gross reach on an infield hit, and then hitting Chris Gomez. Overall, the night was a struggle for Wakefield, and conventional wisdom had him hoping that Timlin could escape the jam by only allowing one run to score.

"At first, I was hoping to get a double play -- you know, give up a run but we'd still have a one-run lead," said Timlin. "I figured if I could preserve it from there, then I would have done my job."

Eyes focused on Mirabelli's mitt, Timlin came with his 90-mile-per-hour-plus smoke and bagged Johnson and Hudson. Rios then went without an issue, with a roller to short.

"After getting the first two guys, I was thinking I'd like to strike out the side," said Timlin. "But I'm just happy I got out of the situation."

The Jays, who rubbed out the Sox, 3-0, on a Ted Lilly three-hitter the night before, scuffed up Wakefield for three runs across the first four innings. His knuckleball didn't dance as much as he would have liked and the Jays knocked him around some, including a third-inning solo homer by Hudson. When the first three hitters reached in the sixth, Francona felt enough was enough.

"We went to Timlin awful early," noted the manager. "But if someone gets a homer there, we're fighting uphill again."

And the Jays went downhill from there.

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