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Ended at the start

Pirates were under Clement's control

Matt Clement came to the Red Sox in December much like the slider he used to befuddle many a righthanded Pittsburgh batter yesterday -- that is, backdoor. The Sox prioritized in November, and the club's letter to Santa read like this:

1. Carl Pavano

2. Brad Radke

3. Matt Clement

As Clement packed for Cleveland and Philadelphia last night, having dominated his hometown Pirates -- he came of age playing hoops and third base in Butler, Pa. -- he toted with him yet another win. This one, Clement's eighth, was a seven-inning, three-hit, nine-strikeout tour de force against a hapless bunch of Bucs, beaten down, 8-0, by the Sox before 35,046 on Father's Day in the Fens

With three starts remaining before the All-Star break, Clement can begin preparing to spend July 11-13 in Motown, where he will most decidedly not bump into the aforementioned members of the Yankees and Twins in the Comerica Park clubhouse.

Pavano is 4-5 with a 4.53 ERA, a year after going 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA. Radke is 5-6 with a 4.20 ERA, a season after submitting an 11-8 record with a 3.48 ERA. Pavano and Radke are tied for the league lead in something, though that something is hits allowed, with 114.

Clement? At 8-1, he has one fewer win than Pavano and Radke combined, plus a tidy 3.48 ERA. He has, in the minds of an increasingly adoring fan base, been a revelation. But the reality is Clement has been exactly what Sox management expected. Don't believe it?

Here's a reason to: His record aside -- he was 7-5 a year ago today -- Clement has poorer core pitching numbers now than he did June 20, 2004.

ERA: 3.07 then, 3.48 now. Ks per nine innings: 9.4 then, 7.4 now. Walks per nine innings: 2.8 then, 3.0 now.

Some of that should be discounted given the league change -- he's now facing a legitimate batter in the No. 9 hole. The actual difference is that he's winning, and that, more than anything, is buoying his confidence.

Yesterday, Clement's confidence was perhaps at its highest this season, mostly because his slider -- a pitch he's never had to work on too much -- was at its sharpest.

''Maybe I didn't spend enough time on it in spring training," Clement said. ''I just hadn't had it consistently. After St. Louis [a loss two starts ago] I was frustrated because I got beat up a little and wasn't able to go to that pitch."

He rediscovered his slider before his start last Monday against Cincinnati, in which he whiffed a season-high nine, a total he matched yesterday. He fanned six Pirates on sliders. And these weren't simply tight breaking balls. These were pitches that sent dirt and clay spraying.

Clement retired eight straight Pirates to begin the game, three by strikeout, two on sliders. And yet, when the No. 9 hitter, Jack Wilson, dumped a weak single into extremely shallow right field, Clement went to catcher Jason Varitek and asked, somewhat agitated, ''What did I do [wrong]?"

Said Varitek: ''You just threw two great pitches. A hit happens sometimes."

Clement was in peril only once, in the fourth, when Tike Redman led off with an infield single, advanced on a ground out, and Daryle Ward singled. But, with two aboard, Clement set down rookie Ryan Doumit swinging at a slider and Rob Mackowiak offering, emptily, at another slider.

Doumit, in fact, fanned three times against Clement in going 0 for 4, just hours after Terry Francona said, ''That kid's going to be some kind of hitter. He looks like a [Mark] Teixeira."

Clement's near-impeccable outing helped the Sox end this six-game homestand against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with a 2.00 team ERA (12 earned runs in 54 innings pitched).

''We looked like a real solid staff," Francona said, ''and I doubt that everybody felt that way coming out of Chicago."

That solid staff yesterday came to include Alan Embree, whose ERA in 10 previous appearances was 15.75. All Embree did was pitch a scoreless eighth and ninth in which he threw all fastballs, none slower than 90 miles per hour, one as fast as 94, and most at 93.

He began the eighth with a strikeout of Humberto Cota on a 93-m.p.h. heater. Wilson then tripled to right on a ball that Trot Nixon probably should have caught. But Embree fanned Michael Restovich on a 94-m.p.h. fastball that eclipsed the outside corner and escaped with a ground out.

The thought in Embree's mind: ''OK, you've done that, now let's go."

That showed in the ninth, a 1-2-3 effort. It might have been, by definition, mop-up duty, but, Embree said, ''It wasn't for me. Not with the month I've had."

The game was all but over by the end of five innings, at which point the Sox led, 8-0. Francona, who needed to rest a hurting Johnny Damon (shoulder) and Manny Ramírez (bruised ankle), used probably his most unconventional lineup of the year: Nixon leading off, Kevin Millar in left field hitting cleanup, John Olerud batting fifth, and Jay Payton in center hitting seventh.

Millar, who's hitting .471 in his last 12 games, singled and scored in the second inning, then produced sacrifice flies in the third and fourth.

In the third, David Ortíz knocked in two with a sizzling shot high off the center-field wall. Ortíz, who made the turn at second like a U-Haul cutting a corner at excessive speed, slid into third with a two-run triple.

Millar then knocked him in on the next pitch with a sac fly.

''Millar," Ortíz shouted across the room, his breathing back to normal, ''that's some bull. You were supposed to take a pitch so I could get some air."

Later in the inning, Payton turned a 4-0 lead into a 6-0 margin with a homer that screamed over the Monster.

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