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Wakefield's floater buoys Sox

Knuckleballer helps avert series sweep

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Iron Range, the charming lakes (there are actually 11,842, not 10,000 as the slogan suggests), the ''Minnesota nice" quality to the locals. Terry Francona seemed to have missed all of that during the weekend, his view concealed by a Teflon-coated cloud and his experience tainted by his unsettling experience underneath it.

''You know what?" Francona said yesterday afternoon, in the wake of an 11-7 win that gave the Red Sox one victory in this three-game, one-city road trip. ''Take the win and get the hell out of here. This place, I hate coming to this place. Balls bouncing everywhere. We were probably to blame. We needed a win today. We got the win. Let's go home."

The Sox committed three more errors yesterday (weekend total: 7) and allowed two more unearned runs (weekend total: 8) but overcame all of that, beating the Twins in a game Boston led convincingly, 5-0 after one inning, 8-3 after five, and 11-4 after eight.

Still, this game didn't end until Curt Schilling found himself in a save situation in the ninth, entering in relief of Manny Delcarmen ( 2/3 of an inning, 3 runs, 3 hits, 2 walks) with an 11-6 lead, the bases loaded, and the tying run in the on-deck circle.

Schilling, who had been up in the eighth inning getting in some non-game-related throwing, warmed up in exactly three minutes, entered, and issued a full-count walk to Matthew LeCroy, forcing in a run. But Schilling reached back, fanning Jacque Jones on three pitches, the last a 93-mile-per-hour fastball running up and in on the lefthanded-hitter.

''I certainly didn't think I was going to pitch in the eighth," Schilling said. ''As the [ninth] inning goes along, you get ready mentally before you do physically. That's certainly something I've adjusted to."

And adjusted well. Though Schilling looked unready initially -- he threw three straight balls to begin his outing -- his command came, and so did his velocity. The save was his ninth, and, excluding his jarring entrance vs. New York July 14, Schilling is 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 appearances.

But yesterday's pitcher of record, and the one who stood alone as the day's best pitching performer, was Tim Wakefield, who established a season high for strikeouts by a Red Sox pitcher with 11. In fact, never in his preceding 447 major league appearances had Wakefield ever whiffed more than 10, which he'd done just three times, most recently June 1997 at Milwaukee.

''And what was it? One walk?" Francona asked. ''That's to me probably more important than the strikeouts."

Equally important was Wakefield's ability, on display yet again, to halt a Sox skid. Yesterday marked the fourth time this year he's halted a losing streak at two games and the third time he's helped avert a series sweep.

''It's same old, same old," Schilling said of Wakefield. ''There's a real legitimate chance you're going to get seven innings out of him every time he takes the ball. More times than not, it's going to be quality innings."

Wakefield produced five 1-2-3 innings -- the first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth -- and retired 11 consecutive Twins at one point, running into his only difficulty in the third. Minnesota sent seven men to the plate in the inning, scoring three runs, though only one earned, on four consecutive singles and an Alex Cora throwing error.

Cora, in fact, made two throwing errors playing third base, as Francona gave an offday to Bill Mueller (Johnny Damon also rested yesterday).

But the Sox lineup, even as quirky a lineup as Francona employed -- Graffanino, Renteria, Ortiz, Ramirez, Millar, Petagine, Mirabelli, Cora, Kapler -- rendered the defensive shortcomings academic.

Ramirez went 4 for 4 with two singles, a double, a home run (No. 31), three RBIs (Nos. 101, 102, and 103), and three runs scored. The homer came in the seventh with Ortiz (walk) aboard and was a thing of beauty.

One pitch J.C. Romero was buzzing Ramirez up and in, leading Ramirez to drop his bat and backpedal in self-defense. The next pitch, Ramirez was unloading on an outside fastball that crashed into the windows of the luxury boxes in right for his 20th homer and 59th RBI in his last 44 games.

The late-July deal the Sox pondered making for Romero, meanwhile, looks like the best move the club never made. In his last five appearances, the first of which featured John Olerud's grand slam a week ago Friday at Fenway, Romero's line is as follows: 2 1/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 BBs, 4 Ks, 2 HRs. That's a 23.15 ERA.

But Romero wasn't the only Twins pitcher to be hit hard by the Sox and booed by many of the 40,982 on hand.

Starter Joe Mays, another piece the Twins attempted to unload along with Romero, surrendered six first-inning Boston hits, as the Sox built a 5-0 lead.

That would grow to 8-3 in the fifth, when Roberto Petagine lined a three-run double to right-center for his first major league hit since September 1998 as a Cincinnati Red.

''It's very rewarding," said Petagine, who, to emphasize his point, rubbed his right shoulder, where in 1994, as a 22-year-old Double A player in Jackson, Miss., he had inked a tattoo of the Major League Baseball logo.

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