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Wakefield pitches in for Sox

He delivers a knuckle sandwich to KO Orioles

Spare Red Sox outfielder Adam Stern collected two hits in a rare start yesterday in Baltimore.
Spare Red Sox outfielder Adam Stern collected two hits in a rare start yesterday in Baltimore. (AP Photo)

BALTIMORE -- Life is good in Red Sox Nation.

A 5-1 road trip to start the '06 season has included two dominating wins by Curt Schilling, a strong start from Josh Beckett, the emergence of young closer Jonathan Papelbon, and a lineup that shows patience and gets timely hits. Yesterday Tim Wakefield, who became unglued in Game 2 in Texas, rebounded at Camden Yards with six strong innings in a 4-1 win before 37,998 fans. Many of them were members of Sox Nation, and they got to witness the finale of a three-game sweep of the Orioles.

All the concern about Josh Bard's ability to catch Wakefield after three passed balls in Texas seemed to subside after the backstop handled Wakefield's offerings flawlessly. Rule 5 player Adam Stern knocked in a pair of runs as a replacement for Coco Crisp, who sat out with a sore left index finger he hurt in Saturday's game (although there is a report Crisp has a broken knuckle).

Once again the bullpen thrived, as Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke got holds with an inning of work apiece, followed by another save by Papelbon, his third. Papelbon put runners on first and third in the ninth, but got out of it by inducing two popups.

And did we mention the Yankees went 2-4 on their West Coast trip?

''It's great, but it's over," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''The quick satisfaction wears off, but it's a great way to open up at home at Fenway because the place will be jumping."

Wakefield, who allowed only one run, could have gone more than six, but Francona and pitching coach Al Nipper wanted to set up the bullpen the way they did. Francona felt Foulke might be effective in the eighth facing a pair of lefthanded hitters in No. 9 hitter Corey Patterson and leadoff man Dave Newhan because of his changeup, and his hunch was right. Foulke struck out leadoff man Brian Roberts (a switch-hitter who pinch hit for Chris Gomez), and Patterson, then got Newhan on a bunt attempt he lined softly to J.T. Snow at first.

Francona thought it was the best he'd seen Foulke throw in a long time, and that sentiment was echoed by Foulke, who was throwing his fastball at 88 miles per hour and his changeups at 76-77, the desired differential.

''Got three outs in a row. That's the first time that's happened in a while," Foulke said. ''I had a little better snap on the ball today. I definitely didn't hurt myself. It's definitely going to be something you put in the positive memory bank and just try to repeat it another 75 times. I felt better today than I have in a long, long time."

Francona said he never gave a thought to Foulke pitching a second inning. Papelbon was warming in the eighth, and was greeted in the ninth with a double to left by Luis Matos. After a Melvin Mora sacrifice fly got Matos to third, Papelbon hit Miguel Tejada in the elbow with a hard fastball. Then he buckled down and got the foul pops, one by Jay Gibbons and the other by Kevin Millar, to end the game.

But Wakefield's performance set the tone for the Sox as the knuckleballer was able to turn his fortunes around almost immediately by squirming out of a first-inning jam with only one run.

The usually sure-handed Mark Loretta allowed Newhan's grounder to second to go between his legs. After Newhan stole second and went to third on a long fly ball by Matos, Wakefield hit Mora with a pitch before Tejada stroked a single to center, scoring Newhan. But Wakefield got the next two batters and seemed to have momentum on his side, although he had to withstand another error, this time by shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the second inning.

''It was big to keep it to one run," said Bard of Wakefield's first inning. ''When you have a guy throwing the ball like that, it's a pleasure. He really had great command out there and kept their hitters off balance. He never allowed them to get anything going against [him]."

Bard caught Wakefield's side session and made a couple of mechanical adjustments. One was to keep his head still; video had shown he was moving around a lot and pulling his head off the ball.

''Hopefully this will result in me being like a good umpire, where you don't even recognize me," Bard said. ''I was encouraged with the results. I still dropped a couple of balls, and so I need to keep improving on that. He'll [Wakefield] have his side session back in Boston this week and I'm looking forward to catching him and keep learning out there."

Bard also contributed a single in the fifth inning, in which Boston scored twice.

J.T. Snow started things with a single to right, and Bard followed with his hit. Gonzalez moved the runners along with a nice sacrifice, then Stern, who batted leadoff, singled in Snow. When Gomez caught Loretta's line drive at second, he tried to double Stern off first. But the ball hit Stern on the arm and bounded away, allowing Bard to score the Sox' second run.

In the sixth, the Sox loaded the bases, aided by three walks. Stern then reached on an infield hit to first, which scored Boston's third run, then Loretta singled to right to make it 4-1.

Wakefield, who allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in Texas April 4, really settled in. He induced three grounders to short in the third. He loaded the bases in the fourth on a single, hit batsman, and a walk, but got Matos to ground into a fielder's choice for the final out. In the sixth, he surrendered a double to Ramon Hernandez and a single to Gomez but then struck out the final three batters, Newhan on a 78 m.p.h. fastball.

''In Texas the knuckleball was too good and I couldn't control it," said Wakefield. ''I felt more comfortable in the strike zone; my misses were better today." About Bard, Wakefield said, ''Bard did a great job today and he did a great job in Texas. After the first inning, I was able to keep us in the game for six innings."

In his first road trip with the Red Sox, Bard learned one very important thing. ''You really see, being with a team like the Indians and trying to get to the level of the Red Sox, about sweeping a team and finishing off a road trip," he said. ''You see how professional guys are. Getting 27 outs is hard enough, but doing it for three games and finishing it off like we did is pretty special."

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