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Sweep not in cards

Wells comes to Red Sox' rescue

ST. LOUIS -- It was no surprise that at 12:22 EDT this morning David Wells was still awake. The stunning part is that Wells, notorious for his early-morning existence, was still pitching.

The 42-year-old Red Sox lefthander went to the mound for the St. Louis half of the eighth inning at that time, working on a shutout against the Cardinals in the finale of a three-game interleague rematch of the Fall Classic.

He worked an unblemished eighth before handing over to Keith Foulke after what was the most brilliant pitching performance of the Sox season in a 4-0 Boston win.

Count the ways:

Wells needed only 94 pitches -- 74 of them strikes -- to complete eight scoreless innings.

He went to only one three-ball count and two two-ball counts.

He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 28 batters he faced.

He walked no one, extending his streak of innings without a walk to 25 2/3.

He allowed only five base runners -- three singles, a double, and a hit batsman. Only the man who doubled, Jim Edmonds, in the fifth, and So Taguchi, in the eighth, reached second base.

''I don't think I made a bad pitch in that game," Wells said, conveying not prepackaged bravado but dawning astonishment. ''It's a rarity, but when you feel that good just go with it."

With a win, the Sox avoided having done to them what they did to the Cardinals last October -- a series sweep. This was only a series -- not the Series -- but it was another challenging one for the Sox, who last night concluded 13 consecutive games against the Yankees or teams leading their divisions (Baltimore, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis). With the win they finished 7-6 in those games. They needed, and got, Wells's best.

The game was delayed 2 hours 54 minutes at the start because of rain, forcing Wells and his counterpart, Chris Carpenter, to wait until 9:06 p.m. local time to begin the proceedings. Wells, a creature of habit, had been pumping heavy metal into his ears for hours by the time the scheduled game time of 6:10 came and went. By 9:06, his iPod was dead but his focus dead on.

Wells, through four innings, had compiled a uniquely pleasing combination of digits on the Cardinals' side of the scoresheet: 2 H, 0 R, 0 LOB. Taguchi (leading off the St. Louis third) and Mark Grudzielanek (with one out in the fourth) accounted for the hits, both singles.

Taguchi was erased when the batter that followed him, Yadier Molina, bounced to shortstop Edgar Renteria, who began a double play. And Wells picked off Grudzielanek, who broke for second, it going down as a caught stealing, 1-3-4.

Meanwhile, Sox manager Terry Francona sat Manny Ramirez for the second time in nine days, with two objectives in mind -- recharging the slugger and keeping Kevin Millar (Ramirez's replacement in left field) in a groove at the plate while David Ortiz fields Millar's regular position -- first base -- during this six-game National League Central junket.

Millar was 1 for 3 with a single and a walk, plus one forgettable indignity staged on the warning track in left. Edmonds hit a ball in the fifth inning that traveled on a path -- and height -- not that dissimilar to the great arch that sits just blocks away. Millar drifted back, was turned inside out, and put his hands up to brace himself against the wall, just as the ball landed behind him for a double.

Millar, in the aftermath of a needed win, was able to laugh off his faux pas.

''I'm a big San Diego Chargers fan," he said. ''I took the lightning bolt route."

Bill Mueller bailed out Millar later in the inning. With two outs and Edmonds still on second, Taguchi chopped a roller toward third. Mueller, yet again, made a barehanded pickup and off balance throw look routine.

''[Expletive] Brooks Robinson over there," Wells remarked.

The scoreless tie maintained, the Sox erupted for three in the top of the sixth. Ortiz struck the initial blow -- a solar/solo shot to right, his 14th of the season, for a 1-0 lead. He would be one of six straight Red Sox to reach against Chris Carpenter, who, in the preceding five innings, had been as solid as the granite back in his home state. At the end of five innings he'd punched out seven, walked none, and allowed four hits, all singles, and stranded all four runners.

But Ortiz's homer signaled the beginning of Carpenter's unraveling. Millar yanked a single through the left side and Trot Nixon singled. Jason Varitek then sat back on a Carpenter offering, driving a tailing double to left-center that not even a diving Edmonds could run down.

Millar scored with ease, and Nixon narrowly beat a throw home by sneaking his left hand through catcher Molina's 5-hole. Sox 3, Cardinals 0.

Carpenter, quite unglued by now, walked the next two Sox -- Mueller and Mark Bellhorn -- before punching out Wells looking and erasing Johnny Damon, the ninth batter of the inning. Damon grounded to Albert Pujols, who flipped to a covering Carpenter at first. Damon and Carpenter collided, sending both tumbling, but Carpenter recorded the out, escaping the inning, saving at least one run, possibly two, on that play, and maybe more if the inning had continued.

Damon, back atop the Sox lineup for the second straight night after missing two games with a strained right rotator cuff, looks to be something short of completely healthy. He singled to lead off Tuesday's game but is hitless in eight at-bats since. He struck out swinging in his last plate appearance Tuesday and fanned twice through three at-bats last night. That's three strikeouts in four at-bats, after just 20 in 227 previous ABs this year.

But, that play at the bag on Damon would be Carpenter's last act of the night. His final line was 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 8 K.

Renteria, 1 for 12 through two games and eight innings in his homecoming, homered to dead center in the ninth, his fifth of the year.

''I had to do something," Renteria said.

Foulke, back on the mound where he celebrated his greatest moment, got Edmonds to fly out with two aboard to end it.

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