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Sox pass road test with flying colors

PHILADELPHIA -- Bad umpiring, aching feet, sore shoulders, blazing temperatures, blown leads, a ticked-off opponent and a microchip of a ballpark, David Wells said, that is better suited for the Little League World Series than big league baseball.

That's the obstacle course the Red Sox had to navigate before returning home from their most significant run since they ran the table in New York and St. Louis last October. The last time the Sox were perfect on a trip of equal or greater duration was in 1977, when they had a 9-0 West Coast swing. The final steps were the toughest, and the most resourceful, as a surprise drag bunt by Johnny Damon, a highly improbable infield hit by David Ortiz, and a typical no-surrender sprint by Trot Nixon in a four-run eighth inning against the Phillies yesterday sent the Sox flying home with their seventh straight win, a 12-8 survival meeting that had the Sox landing at Logan last night after a 6-0 trip.

''It's a good trip -- other teams lose, we win, that's good," said Sox manager Terry Francona, who never once puffed out his chest this weekend in the town that tried to take his head off when he managed a lousy Phillies team back at the end of the '90s, which to him now seems a millennium ago.

''I watch the scoreboard, too, that's great," Francona said, ''but if we take care of what we're supposed to, regardless of what anyone else is doing, and play like this, you feel confident. That's what you're shooting for. That's why you grind them out. You've got a good team, you go out and grind them out and hope somebody falters that way."

The Sox did their usual bashing, banging out 15 hits, including a first-row, fly-ball grand slam by Manny Ramírez, the 19th of his career, placing him in a tie for second place all-time with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, as well as home runs by Mark Bellhorn and Jason Varitek. In all seven of their wins, the Sox have had 10 or more hits, including a single yesterday by Wells, a career .115 hitter, that preceded Ramirez's slam in the fourth off Phillies starter Brett Myers.

''I don't even take BP," boasted Wells, who also had a run-scoring groundout in the fifth, and could have done without all the extra running on a hazy 87-degree day in which the plantar fasciitis in his right foot became an irritation. ''I refuse to take BP. I'm not going out there and take one off the foot or sting my hand. If I'm going to get hurt, it's going to be in the game, not BP."

By the middle of the fifth, it was 8-1, Sox, and the Phillies, who'd lost the first two games of this series by a combined score of 15-1, appeared incapable of offering a response, except for manager Charlie Manuel, who had held a 20-minute team meeting before the game and then got himself ejected from the premises for arguing ball-strike calls with plate umpire Gary Darling.

But the Phillies rallied against Wells, who had won five straight decisions but yesterday had his own issues with Darling, especially after the umpire missed what Wells was convinced was a certain inning-ending third strike on Pat Burrell. The Phillies slugger then followed with a two-run home run to cap off a four-run fifth, all of the runs coming with two out and nobody on.

Wells, not one to parse his words, held nothing back yesterday either.

''That's the worst performance I've seen in my career back there," Wells said of Darling, who also took a hit from Myers, who complained that it was like pitching to a ''plate with no corners."

''It was really unfair," Wells said, who gestured angrily in Darling's direction as Burrell circled the bases, then gave him another earful as he left the field at the end of the fifth, which would be his last inning. ''It's frustrating for a pitcher. You're out there, it's a million degrees . . . You've got a situation, how did he miss it? I don't know. Then tempers flare. That's why I fought back. I basically tried to get thrown out of the game yelling at him."

Wells, who eventually allowed that even Darling was ''entitled to a bad day," was cooling off when the Phillies tied the score with three runs in the seventh against Alan Embree and Mike Timlin, with the assist of an error by seldom-used shortstop Ramón Vázquez filling in for sore-wristed Edgar Renteria.

But it only took two pitches for the Sox to regain the lead in the eighth. Damon, his sore shoulder responsible for some weak offerings at the plate, skidded his bunt past Phillies reliever Rheal Cormier for just his second bunt hit of the season, and Bellhorn hit Cormier's next pitch for a run-scoring double.

On Cormier's third pitch of the inning, Ortiz tapped a ground ball to the right side against an over-shifted Phillies infield that had borrowed the alignment the Sox use against a power-hitting lefties, placing second baseman Chase Utley on the grass in right. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins couldn't handle Ortiz's roller cleanly, and he was credited with an infield hit.

''That guy [Utley] was playing right field on me," Ortiz said. ''That's what that guy gets for playing right field. I wasn't even pulling the ball too much here, you know that?

''I said 'OK, here it comes.' That at-bat, all I wanted to do was move the runner over from second, so the man [Ramirez] can drive him in."

On Cormier's fourth pitch of the inning, Manny Ramírez, who has seven home runs in his last 11 games and homered in all three games here, hit a fly ball to center that scored Bellhorn easily and gave him five RBIs for the day. A hustling Nixon then beat out what would have been an inning-ending double play, and Varitek touched Cormier for his 13th home run, leaving the lefthander wearing the same dazed expression that comes with pitching for a living in Citizens Bank Park.

''It's a joke, it really is," Wells said. ''As a free agent pitcher it'd be real tough. You'd have to give them a lot of money to come pitch here. You're going to have ERAs in the 5's and 6's as a starting pitcher, because the ball carries here so bad. It's probably one of the nicest parks I've seen, but it's sad it's a hitter's park. It's unfair."

Wells was asked if it played as badly as mile-high Coors Field in Denver.

''It plays like the Little League World Series," he said. ''That's basically what it is. The balls are flying out. For a pitcher, unless you get the ankle-high strike, it's going to be really tough."

But, Wells had to admit, it was fun watching his side operate here.

''Our offense, obviously, has been tremendous," he said. ''We've been getting pretty good pitching, but it's fun to watch [the offense] as a Red Sox. It's not fun being the opposition.

''These guys, no matter what the situation is, seem to come up with a big run at the right time, then seem to add on. That's where we're at right now. The pitching's been great, but today just a crazy day. They tie it up, we score four more. That's how these guys are -- they just roll."

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