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Loud and clear

Page 2 of 2 -- That said, replicating 2004 would be impressive enough. His on-again, off-again seasons have befuddled even Bellhorn himself. He hit one home run in 2001 (in 38 games), 27 in 2002 (146 games), two in 2003 (99 games), then 17 last year (138 games).

Last season, he also established career highs in batting average (.264), RBIs (82), doubles (37), runs (93), and walks (88). He seems poised to put together productive back-to-back seasons.

In the past, he said, he was in unsettled situations. He played for the A's in 2001, Cubs in 2002, and split 2003 between Chicago and Colorado.

"I probably tried to do too much," he said. "I really don't know the reason, it's just one of the freaky things. I hit both those home runs in Chicago [in 2003] and from June on I didn't play every day."

Bellhorn said he doesn't intend to alter his approach too much this year, even though he led the American League in strikeouts last season with 177, a team record. But, to talk about reducing whiffs is a tired anthem, he said.

"It's been that for the last nine years," said Bellhorn, who managed a .373 on-base percentage despite the strikeouts. "I do want to cut down. I don't want to go down 50 strikeouts but have the other numbers go down, too. A lot of guys with a lot of walks have a lot of strikeouts because you've got to get deep in counts, 3-1, 3-2, as opposed to being like Nomar."

That reference was to Nomar Garciaparra's notorious first-pitch swings. Conversely, Bellhorn's willingness to go deep in counts, wear down pitchers, and compile walks gave Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz the chance to drive in as many runs as they did.

"I think he was one of the most underrated people in the league," Damon said. "He strikes out a lot, but he prolonged innings. He walked a lot. That two-spot is underrated."

It's possible that Bellhorn retains that No. 2 spot, though Edgar Renteria could supplant him.

"Bellhorn, I understand he's not the prototype No. 2 hitter, but he did a great job getting on base," Francona said. "So there's times when Bellhorn can hit second, there's times he'll hit ninth.

"He's like the easiest guy. You walk up every day, say, `How's everything going?' He says, `Good, Skip.' And you just keep on going."

Last October, Francona couldn't just keep on going. He had to address Bellhorn's psyche. Today, Bellhorn said, he's better equipped to handle future struggles, especially in the postseason.

"You never want to get booed," he said. "I guess it did hurt. In a way, I understand where they were coming from. Maybe I was thinking negative, not that I couldn't do it. I was trying too hard to prove them wrong.

"My first playoffs, you tend to want to do too much. You want to contribute for the team. You're 0 for 20 and you're just pressing. But you get one broken-bat hit and your confidence is back again. I hit that home run in Game 6, and it was OK from there."

The most rewarding of the three home runs?

"The one in Fenway was the most special," he said. "To do it at Fenway, given the week before . . ." 

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