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It's over (and out) again for Ortiz

Third game-winning HR in nine days subdues Blue Jays

TORONTO -- In one locker, Gabe Kapler pulled black, pinstriped slacks over the peach-colored cast that concealed his left leg, knee to toe. He tucked his customs card into his hip pocket using his left hand, the one displaying the World Series ring. Jason Varitek stopped, reached around Kapler's back, and hugged him. The outfielder with the ruptured Achilles' tendon stood up, best he could, lifted his crutches, and made his way out of the clubhouse, his season (and possibly next season) done.

Two lockers down, a couple of minutes later, David Ortiz began fielding questions, humor and honesty and wit on display as he talked of his third game-deciding homer in nine days, this a two-run blast that snapped a 3-3 tie in the Sox' 5-3 win.

''It was awesome," said Kapler, who was lying on a trainer's table in the visiting clubhouse when Ortiz's 408-foot blast exited the Rogers Centre, just to the left of center, with two outs and Bill Mueller aboard in the eighth. ''Still trying to figure out how David Ortiz does it. We all would like to have a smidgen of what he's got going for him."

Kapler, at that moment, would have settled for his health. A season that began in Japan and shifted to Boston July 30 ended last night for Kapler, who started the game in center field. Johnny Damon, meanwhile, continues to nurse a left shoulder contusion that has kept him out of the outfield for the last five days. Who will man center tonight in the opener of a weighty four-game series against Oakland?

''I don't know yet," manager Terry Francona said. ''It's not good to get banged up. But I think we all view it as, 'We're the Red Sox, we're going to do it together.' And that's how we approach it. It's because we believe. I believe it. And they believe it. When it gets tested, I think that's when we're at our best."

Nights like these could be one the Sox look back upon as a moment when they came together as a team, on the path to something greater. But, even on a team of so many standouts, there continues to emerge one who is most valuable, quite possibly in the entire American League.

Ortiz's shot off Toronto righthanded starter Josh Towers made a winner of David Wells (13-7, 4.35 ERA) and helped the Sox maintain a 2 1/2-game lead on the Yankees (6-5 winners at Tampa Bay) with 17 games to play.

Francona isn't one to discuss personal awards.

''It just goes against the grain of how I feel," said the Sox skipper. ''Saying that, I just hope when it's time to vote, this guy is as valuable as anybody we've seen. To our club. In the league."

And the argument that a DH can't be an MVP? A full-time DH, after all, has never won the award.

''That would be very unfair," Francona said.

Ortiz is building a case, day by day, putting on a September show much like Vladimir Guerrero did last September in capturing the award. Consider the following:

Ortiz has hit three game-deciding home runs in the last nine days -- Sept. 6 vs. Los Angeles in the bottom of the ninth, Monday night vs. Toronto in the 11th, and last night in the eighth. All three came with the game tied. He homered four times in this three-game series and has homered 16 times in his last 30 games.

Of his 42 home runs -- a career high -- 18 have tied games or put the Sox ahead, nine of those in the seventh inning or later.

He has 18 game-winning RBIs. In the seventh inning and beyond, he's hit 17 home runs and knocked in 45 runs. Of his major-league leading 130 RBIs, 41 have tied games or put the Sox ahead.

In clutch situations (seventh inning on, one run ahead to two runs behind or representing at least the tying run), he's hitting .329 with 9 home runs and 26 RBIs.

Why does he so relish the pressure?

''It's not like I like it," Ortiz said. ''I've got no choice. I face the situation over and over and over. I've got to do something. It's not as easy as it looks."

The situation presented it last night because Wells had done just enough to keep the game tied. Wells went into last night almost impeccable at home (7-1, 3.00 ERA), but fighting it on the road (5-6, 5.57), and as soon as the second inning, he realized he didn't have much.

''Velocity was there," he said. ''Breaking ball definitely wasn't there."

So Wells, who usually uses a high number of curveballs, amended his approach.

''It was just fastball in, fastball out," he said.

He was therefore forced to be more careful, leading to his high walk total (wink, wink). He walked two, tying a season high.

He allowed two runs in the second and one in the sixth, the middle of the Jays order doing the damage. Cleanup hitter Corey Koskie and No. 5 hitter Shea Hillenbrand went 5 for 7 against Wells with two RBIs (both by Hillenbrand).

As important as Ortiz was, he wouldn't have been in position to win it without Tony Graffanino, who hit leadoff for the sixth time this season (the Sox are 5-1 in those games). He doubled to begin the game and scored on an Ortiz groundout.

Then, in the fifth, Kapler reached on an error. Would everything have been different if he hadn't reached base? Or was the injury something that was building inside his leg, the tendon weakening, ready to explode, perhaps later in the game? He'll likely never know, but he won't forget how the injury occurred.

The next batter, Graffanino, launched a ball to left that was anything but a no-doubter. Kapler reached second gaining steam as the ball cleared the fence, then crumpled.

''I've never in my 18 years seen a home run and seen a guy blow out at second base," Wells remarked.

A five-minute delay ensued. Kapler, once on his feet, lifted his arms off of trainers Jim Rowe and Chang Lee, looking, momentarily, as if he were considering limping the 150 or so feet to home plate.

''He actually said, 'I can score,' " said Francona.

But, really, he couldn't. Alejandro Machado, in a very odd scene, came out of the dugout, jogged to Kapler, hung a left, and ran the rest of the way home, Graffanino right behind him.

The win helped the Sox salvage this six-game trip to New York and Toronto at 3-3.

''Winning this game is awesome," said Francona, who commended Mike Timlin for a 1-2-3 ninth inning. ''That's a big, big game for us. Last game of this trip. It's been a hard, hard trip. Winning this is huge. The part about Gabe is hard to swallow."

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