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This victory helps ease Sox' pain

Wakefield's outing ensures a feel-good ending to road trip

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Red Sox lifted off into the Florida sky last night bound for Logan Airport and the brief ride to Fenway Park, where visitors would be awaiting their return.

There may have been fans on hand, but the only guarantee was an assemblage of medical personnel, headed by Dr. Thomas Gill, who planned to be at the yard for late-night evaluations of pitcher Matt Clement, who was released from the hospital yesterday, and right fielder Trot Nixon, who estimates he stands to miss two to three weeks -- though it could easily be longer -- with a strained muscle in his left side.

And while this trip wasn't stellar -- the club went 4-3 in Chicago and Tampa, culminating with yesterday's 4-1 defeat of the Devil Rays -- it was encouraging in the face of such attrition.

''[Saturday] night, about 9 o'clock, it could have been a 2-5 trip, and we're going home 4-3 with a healthy Matt Clement," said closer Curt Schilling, who pitched one-third of an inning yesterday in notching a save, to go along with a loss and a win in the series. ''It's a pretty good swing."

The Sox prevailed without baseball's top run producer of 2005. Despite being asked to play by his manager, Manny Ramirez asked out of the lineup to rest. That left the Sox with perhaps their quirkiest lineup of the year: Damon, Renteria, Ortiz, Olerud, Mueller, Millar, Cora, Mirabelli, Stern.

But it was a lineup committed to the team concept and capable of small-ball execution.

No play demonstrated that better than Edgar Renteria's sixth-inning trip around the bases. Renteria walked to lead off, and David Ortiz popped up to catcher Toby Hall in foul territory on the third base side.

Hall went into a slide, and Renteria, tagging up, lithely broke for -- and reached -- second.

''Was that beautiful baseball?" manager Terry Francona asked, a smile spreading across his weary face.

Renteria advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on John Olerud's sacrifice fly to center, upping the Sox' lead to 3-1.

''He made that whole run himself there," said Kevin Millar, whose ninth-inning double to left-center plated Bill Mueller for a 4-1 lead. ''Johnny Damon and Edgar are the only guys on our team who can do that."

Alex Cora, who in short time has inspired much more confidence than Ramon Vazquez ever did, provided the deciding run with a solo homer with one out in the fifth against Devil Rays starter Seth McClung. But Francona was more pleased to discuss Cora's ninth-inning ground out. With Millar on second and no outs, Cora made sure to hit the ball to the right side and advance Millar. ''He comes with that reputation," Francona said of Cora.

''It was great to hit a home run, but given the type of player I am, that's what I'm really here for, to do the little things," Cora said. ''You've got two of the best hitters in the league here, you've got a leader in Jason Varitek, you've got Edgar making the play he did today, and at the same time Terry's counting on me."

Millar, meanwhile, continued his second-half surge. In 13 games since the All-Star break he's batting .385 (15 for 39) with 5 doubles, 5 RBIs, and 14 walks. Amazing what a vacation with Mark Bellhorn can do for a guy.

OK, it wasn't a vacation, more a business trip. Millar hoodwinked Bellhorn into a three-day trip to Millar's hometown of Beaumont, Texas, over the All-Star break, and they spent five hours each day studying video, soft tossing, and hitting in Millar's brother's batting cage.

''We'd been swinging through stuff," Millar said. So he retooled his swing and his approach.

''I couldn't try to hit 15 home runs in a month," he said. ''That wouldn't help anybody. But I could have good at-bats and help this lineup. I went back to [my] 2001 [form]. I feel tons better."

The only downer for Millar was that his RBI double -- which looked likely to leave the yard -- struck the wall halfway up, prolonging his homerless drought to 112 at-bats, now longest on the team. Cora snapped a 131-at-bat homerless drought with his drive to right.

The four runs stood up because Tim Wakefield delivered 7 1/3 innings a night after the Sox burned through six pitchers in an epic 10-inning win.

Wakefield allowed only one unearned run, in the fourth. Jorge Cantu led off with a single, advanced to third on a Travis Lee single, then scored a passed ball.

''He was outstanding and we needed it," Francona said. ''I think he understands his responsibility as much as anyone I've been around."

Wakefield improved to 9-9 and earned his 123d win in a Sox uniform, tying Mel Parnell for third on the club's all-time list -- Roger Clemens and Cy Young are tied for first with 192.

Still, Francona needed three pitchers -- Chad Bradford, Mike Myers, and Schilling -- to record the final five outs. Schilling, who for the first time as a Sox reliever entered in the middle of an inning, came on with two on and two out in the ninth and walked Eduardo Perez, bringing up Carl Crawford with the bases loaded.

This would be the same Crawford who jawed with Schilling on the field here during the April 24 melee, then said earlier this month that he was ''looking forward" to seeing Schilling with a ''capital L."

Schilling got ahead, 0 and 2, Crawford fouled off four more pitches, and then Schilling broke the lefthanded hitter's bat with an inside fastball that Crawford grounded weakly to first base to end the game.

The night before, Schilling, holding a 10-8 lead in the 10th, allowed an opposite-field single to lefthanded hitter Travis Lee, pulling Tampa Bay within one. That hit got Schilling thinking. As a starter, from a young age, he said, he was always taught not to get beaten inside. But as a closer, he's come to realize he has to pitch inside more if he wants to succeed.

''That was the opportunity," he said of the Crawford at-bat. ''I wanted to go in, and that was the time to do it."

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