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Tigers can't cage Sox

After disputed homers, Boston roars back to take series opener

Being a new guy in town, Tony Graffanino has chosen to live close to Fenway Park, and yet, following a 3:45 touchdown at Logan Airport yesterday morning, a 4:30 a.m. arrival at Fenway Park on the team bus, and a wait for his bags, the Red Sox second baseman didn't settle into bed until 5:30, maybe 5:45.

And yet, come last night, Graffanino cranked out three hits and and had one walk in a 9-8 win over the Tigers, his performance emblematic of the team's, despite the leftover weariness of a season-long 10-game road trip and a red-eye flight. With that comes this question: Can anything stop the Sox from hitting, and winning, at home?

''This," Detroit manager Alan Trammell noted before last night's game, ''is arguably the toughest place to play in baseball right now."

Anyone unconvinced? At 39-18, the Sox own baseball's best home record, and that bodes well, with 24 of the closing 36 games in the Fens. The club last night began its longest homestand since 1994, a 14-game, five-team stay, with its 14th consecutive home win. That marks the fourth-best run in club history. Next up: the 15-game tear by the 1950 Sox.

The Sox, who averaged 4.8 runs during the recently completed 4-6 road swing, clearly savored returning to Fenway. In these 14 home wins the club's wanton offense has accounted for 8.4 runs per game.

They scored in bunches last night -- scoring twice in the third (turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead), twice in the fifth (turning a 5-3 disadvantage into a 5-5 tie), and four times in the sixth (building a 9-5 lead).

''We started off sluggish," said Trot Nixon, who knocked in a run in the third and another in the fifth. ''But we fed off our fans."

The Sox, who have batted around 32 times in 126 games, didn't send nine men to the plate in any inning last night, but they did send eight to bat in both the third and sixth innings.

Doug Mirabelli led off the third with a double to right. Alex Cora singled, sending Mirabelli to third, and Johnny Damon delivered a sacrifice fly, scoring Mirabelli. Graffanino then singled and David Ortiz walked on five pitches, loading the bases.

Tigers starter Jason Johnson, who had been tagged at a .400 clip in 40 previous showdowns with Manny Ramirez, then wanted no part of the majors' RBI leader. He walked Ramirez on five pitches, forcing in a run, and Nixon delivered a sac fly for a 3-1 lead.

In the sixth, the Sox plated four more, beginning with a Damon strikeout on a Johnson wild pitch that allowed the runner on third, Bill Mueller, to score, and Damon to reach.

''Smart hitting," cracked Sox manager Terry Francona.

Graffanino followed with an RBI single, and two batters later Ramirez yanked a two-run double down the line in left, lifting his RBI total to 115, his season pace to 149, and the Sox to a 9-5 lead.

Tim Wakefield, meanwhile, picked up his team-leading 13th win despite being struck on his right leg by a batted ball for the second time in as many starts. A week ago Thursday in Anaheim, Calif., a Casey Kotchman liner hit Wakefield near the ankle and ended his night after 4 1/3 innings. Just five batters into last night's game, and still in the first inning, Dmitri Young shot a ball off Wakefield's right leg near the knee.

This time, Wakefield, who had allowed an unearned run previous to being hit, remained in the game. The knuckleballer retired seven of the next nine Tigers he faced. But he then ran into difficulty, when Detroit scored four times in the fourth, turning a 3-1 Boston lead into a 5-3 Sox deficit, and quickly.

Wakefield walked Craig Monroe to lead off the inning, gave up a homer to Brandon Inge, allowed a Wall double to Providence College product John McDonald, then served up another homer, this one to No. 9 hitter Curtis Granderson.

''The fourth inning was horrible for me," Wakefield said. ''Inge I fell behind and had to throw a fastball. I made a good pitch to Granderson, and he hit it out."

Both home runs involved a degree of uncertainty, though television replays confirmed that both balls did indeed leave the playing field in foul territory.

Inge's blast caromed off the wall above and to the right of the 379-foot sign in left-center, just to the right of the yellow line of homer demarcation, tying the game at 3.

Following McDonald's double, Granderson sent a tailing shot down the line in right that sailed by Pesky's Pole. Initial ruling: foul. That brought an upset Trammell out of the dugout charging hard toward first base umpire Jim Wolf. Wolf waved off the Detroit manager and huddled with his colleagues. The consensus: home run, and a 5-3 Detroit lead. Nixon and Wakefield both admitted that they felt the ball was fair.

But Francona engaged home plate ump Randy Marsh in a spirited discussion and was run. That marked his fifth ejection of the season and the team's 13th.

Jeremi Gonzalez, who had pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings spanning six appearances before last night, replaced Wakefield and surrendered back-to-back homers in the seventh to Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. Chad Bradford followed and worked 1 2/3 innings, getting into trouble and then out trouble in a lengthy (36-pitch) stay for the situational righthander.

''In a few days," Francona said, hinting at the Sept. 1 date when rosters expand, ''we're going to have [bullpen] reinforcements, which makes a big difference. We extended Bradford a good amount, and he still made pitches."

Mike Timlin succeeded Bradford and recorded his third save of the season and first since Curt Schilling reentered the rotation, handing to Timlin, at least on an interim basis, the closer role. He ended the night by fanning Inge.

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