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Ray of hope is blasted

Perez's ninth-inning homer finishes Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There's no clock in baseball, but there is a pitch count.

That was the Red Sox' hope.

Scott Kazmir, a 21-year-old lefthander, mesmerized the Sox for seven innings (one run on four hits) at Tropicana Field last night before the largest crowd (30,530) of the season, but was close to his 110-pitch limit (108, to be exact), so Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella called on his bullpen to hold a lead.

But the Red Sox erased a 4-1 deficit with a run in the eighth and two in ninth. Eduardo Perez then pinch hit for Alex Sanchez in the bottom of the inning and hit a titanic, first-pitch home run (estimated at 459 feet) off Alan Embree to give Tampa Bay a 5-4 win.

"I'm not icing my shoulder, I'm icing my pride right now," said Embree. "It was just a bad pitch. Bad location. It was supposed to be down and in and it was up and in, and he was guessing up and in. That's a bad flashback right there."

Embree, who has allowed three home runs in 8 2/3 innings this season, was referring to the tying, two-run homer he allowed to Vernon Wells Tuesday against Toronto.

"I felt great in the pen warming up," said Embree. "The team had a great comeback. It stings knowing we battled back so much to get it tied up."

Perez has hit the Devil Rays' last three home runs (two off Randy Johnson Tuesday). It was the 13th walkoff homer in franchise history.

"I've seen [Embree] a lot since his Cleveland days," Perez said. "It's tough to lead off against a pitcher like that, so you enjoy the moment. As a pinch hitter, you've got to be ready."

There was a different view from the Boston side.

"It stinks," said center fielder Johnny Damon, who drove in the tying run in the ninth with a single past a drawn-in infield. "If we had a chance to get our big guys up again, I think we would have pulled it out. This team knows how to win."

In the eighth, with Kazmir gone, Manny Ramirez tripled to left-center off Travis Harper and scored on Kevin Millar's single to center, making it 4-2.

Then in the ninth, Devil Rays closer Danys Baez walked pinch hitter Trot Nixon to start the inning, and Nixon came around on Mark Bellhorn's double. After Bellhorn was advanced to third on Ramon Vazquez's bunt, he came in on Damon's single to the right side.

Bellhorn had an interesting night. He had two doubles, in the fifth (when he scored the Sox' first run) and the ninth. In the third inning, after stealing second base, he got picked off, and in the home half of the inning, he committed an error, which proved costly when Julio Lugo doubled home a pair of runs with a drive just under the yellow home run line on the fence in left.

"I don't know what happened exactly. It just bounced out of my glove," Bellhorn said.

Tim Wakefield, who allowed four runs, only two earned, in six innings, took the blame for Lugo's hit, saying, "I made a bad pitch right there."

Millar cost the Sox a run in the sixth inning with an errant throw across the diamond, trying to nab Charles Johnson after Alex Gonzalez had grounded out.

With the Sox trailing, 4-2, in the eighth, reliever Matt Mantei got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam when he got Gonzalez to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

The Sox got their only run off Kazmir, who has a 2.39 ERA against Boston in four career starts, in the fifth, when Bellhorn hit a first-pitch double to left-center. No. 9 batter Vazquez dropped down a bunt. Kazmir would have had a play at third had someone covered the bag, but he could only get the out at first. Damon plated the Sox' first run on a medium fly ball to right, as Jonny Gomes threw weakly toward the plate.

The Devil Rays small-balled their way to a run in the bottom of the inning.

With one out, Sanchez reached on a bunt and stole second. He scored on a two-out single by Lugo, who seemed to have Wakefield figured out. After Lugo stole second, Wakefield walked Travis Lee, who came in hitting .313 (5 for 16) against the knuckleballer, and Phelps to load the bases.

But after a visit from pitching coach Dave Wallace, Jorge Cantu got ahead in the count, 2 and 0. He then watched two Wakefield fastballs go past him for strikes. Wakefield threw him a third consecutive fastball, which Cantu grounded to shortstop to retire the side.

But the real action was yet to come.

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