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Wells able to bounce back in the rubber game

NEW YORK -- It was a weekend in which the Red Sox hit so hard, and so often, they actually blew out a scoreboard.

The team batting average rose 7 points (.275 to .282) on Saturday afternoon alone. Edgar Renteria had nine hits and reached base 11 times. Manny Ramirez had seven straight hits (OK, all singles, but let's just say it was Manny revealing his inner Wade Boggs). In one stretch of 79 plate appearances, the Red Sox had 37 hits. David Ortiz found himself with six hits in his last eight at-bats, all hit right on the screws. They came within one hit of tying a team record Saturday and they did beat the Yankees by 16, a margin no Red Sox team has claimed against the dreaded club from the Bronx.

Nice. Very nice.

But the best development of the weekend had nothing to do with anyone swinging a bat. That stuff was the drive for show. What David Wells did was putt for the dough.

''He was outstanding," said manager Terry Francona. ''He scuffled, and then came back. He had a great breaking ball. He worked both sides of the plate. He was very efficient." I'll say. Wells was 95-pitch efficient, or just 12 pitches more than it took his starting counterpart to labor through three innings.

You would never, ever have guessed what was to come after Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield each hit scorching liners over the left-field fence in the first inning, but Wells went from that inauspicious beginning to throw one of the best games the Red Sox have had all year, and that includes his own eight-inning, three-hit scoreless effort against the Orioles April 20.

Wells was the winning pitcher as the Red Sox won the rubber game of this three-game series. It was no exaggeration to say that this was one of the most important starts made by any Red Sox pitcher this season, because there had to be some concern about just what, if anything, the team could expect from the 42-year-old lefthander after watching his last two performances.

Matched against Mike Mussina, who had gone 4-0, 2.06 in the month of May, Wells worked 8 1/3 innings of spellbinding baseball before departing -- quite unhappily, I must say -- with one out in the ninth after a Sheffield single to center. Keith Foulke nailed it down for the veteran lefty, who was handed a 2-0 lead before he took the mound and gave it back by the third batter he faced.

''I wasn't worried," he said. ''It was, 'Oh, here we go again,' but we were still tied. All I had to do was settle down, get my composure back, and go after them."

This had to be one of the ugliest outings of Mussina's distinguished career. After striking out Johnny Damon to start the game, he lost a 10-pitch battle to Renteria when the sizzling Colombian singled to left. Ortiz then hit an altitudinous shot into the third deck to make it 2-0.

The Red Sox could not add to that total, but there was further damage done, regardless, since it took Mussina 35 pitches to get through the inning. He had gone 3 and 2 to Renteria, Ortiz, and Ramirez, by which time he had thrown 28 pitches to just four batters. Mussina got through the second inning unscathed, thanks to an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Damon, an occurrence about as frequent as Los Angeles Clippers playoff appearances.

The third was another matter entirely. Renteria led off with a line-drive homer to left on pitch No. 62. A ravenous Ortiz immediately hopped on pitch No. 63, driving it to the distant black hitter's background in center, only the 25th such regular-season wallop to that area of the ballpark in the 30 years since this re-configuration. Manny singled for the sixth straight time, and when Trot Nixon followed with a double over the head of center fielder Bernie Williams, it meant that Mussina had thrown 72 pitches to get six outs, and thank God for the Damon double play ball.

Mussina was lifted after the third, having thrown a fairly amazin' 83 pitches, only 50 for strikes.

Wells, too, had a rocky beginning. Jeter opened up the Yankee first with a vicious line drive over the left-field fence, his 13th career leadoff homer. One out later, the menacing Sheffield likewise tomahawked an ineffective Wells offering over that same fence. Alex Rodriguez singled, and the big crowd sensed a big inning. But Wells found the right pitch for Jorge Posada, who hit into a 6-4-3. The Yankees didn't know it, but their offense against Wells was over for this particular evening.

There could not have been a more vivid pitching contrast. While Mussina was scuffling through those three horrible innings, Wells was settling into the kind of groove that had made him a 44-19 career pitcher in Yankee Stadium. Wells was economical with his pitches to the point of parsimony. Pitch counts for innings 2, 3, and 4: 4, 8, and 7. The Yankees were helping him out, obviously, making four first-pitch outs.

But this was truly a vintage Wells. He was keeping the Yankees off-balance. You could go so far as to say they didn't have a good swing at the portly southpaw from the A-Rod single right into the fifth, when Williams hit a one-out double to right. That's as far as he got, however, as Russ Johnson flied to right and Rey Sanchez grounded to short.

Wells admitted that pitching in Yankee Stadium was a big plus. ''It's great, man," he said. ''If you don't want to pitch here, there's something wrong with you." And as far as him breaking out of his mini-slump, Wells had this to say: ''Eventually, it was going to come to an end. How many bad games in a row can you have?"

The answer, apparently, is three.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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