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Wells is hit after doing well

Line drive drops lefthander before Sox rally for win

David Wells lay writhing in pain, on his back near the mound, sweat pouring down his head.

The oldest pitcher to ever start a game for the Red Sox, Wells, a 43-year-old lefthander with 227 wins under his belt, felt every year of it in his first game back after a lengthy stay on the disabled list with a right knee sprain.

And as fate would have it last night, in a game the Sox went on to win, 8-4, Travis Lee stroked a line drive off Wells's right kneecap in the top of the fifth inning, as it went for an infield hit to third base. The impact buckled Wells's knee and he dropped to the ground as trainers Paul Lessard and Jim Rowe, as well as manager Terry Francona, rushed to his side.

Wells exited the game to a standing ovation and was examined by team medical director Thomas Gill in the clubhouse. Team spokesman John Blake said imaging on the knee revealed a deep contusion but ``no immediate evidence of a serious injury." Blake said Wells would undergo further diagnostic testing today.

Francona said after the game the team will give Wells every opportunity to work his way through the injury before deciding whether to place him on the disabled list.

``It's going to be tough," said Francona, ``even if everything comes back clean, which we certainly hope. He took a good shot. Any time you're working with knees that have gone through what his have, there's going to be some trauma, when you take a ball that hard directly off the kneecap."

Balls hit back at pitchers have seemingly become an epidemic for the Sox. Righthander Matt Clement was hit in the right ankle in the second inning of Wednesday's loss to the Yankees and was never the same, even though he made it through 4 1/3, allowing eight runs.

Wells had pitched well after a 41-minute rain delay at the start, holding the Devil Rays to one run, on a Carl Crawford homer (his first of two solo shots) in the fourth. He allowed five hits and had retired Damon Hollins on a ground out to open the fifth.

The Sox were hoping Wells could fill the fifth starter role as effectively as he did last season, when he won 15 games and earned $9 million in salary after achieving all of his incentives. Wells, who ranks 14th all-time in wins among lefthanders, had won his last nine decisions against the Devil Rays and was 10-1 against them lifetime with a 2.91 ERA and five complete games in 16 starts, while walking only 13 and striking out 66.

Wells had made a rehab start in Moosic, Pa., last Sunday in which he allowed two runs on four hits, a walk, and three strikeouts in a 9-3 Pawtucket win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. The Sox activated Wells last night and sent outfielder Dustan Mohr to the PawSox.

``I thought he looked great," said Francona. ``The ball came out of his hand well. He threw fastballs from both sides of the plate. His velocity was good. He fielded his position well, got off the mound off the bunt real well. We weren't just encouraged, we were thrilled."

Wells retired the side in order in the first, gave up a leadoff double to Ty Wigginton in the second, but retired the next three batters, including a bunt by Hollins that Wells looked good fielding. In the third, Wells caught a line drive hit back at him by Lee and induced a double-play grounder. After allowing the homer to Crawford in the fourth, and a single by Wigginton, he got out of the rest of the inning unscathed.

Trailing, 1-0, to the American League's top lefthanded pitcher this season, Scott Kazmir, wasn't a bad situation after four innings.

The Sox got on the board with three runs each in the fifth and sixth to take a 6-1 lead.

The fifth-inning uprising was started by the bottom of the order as Wily Mo Peña singled to left and Alex Gonzalez singled to center. After Kevin Youkilis drew his 30th walk to load the bases, David Ortiz cleared the bases with a double off the top of the left-center-field wall. Ortiz came into the at-bat 4 for 22 against Kazmir, with one home run and one RBI.

``It started out as one of those nights where [Kazmir is] having his way with us, and David took such a beautiful swing with men on base and completely turned the game around," Francona said.

With Julian Tavarez, who earned the win, coming on in relief of Wells and pitching effectively in the fifth and sixth innings, the Sox were able to get to Kazmir again in the sixth. Kazmir, who had won his previous three starts at Fenway, walked leadoff batter Jason Varitek, who rode home on Mike Lowell's two-run homer, the 150th of his career, down the left-field line.

After three infielders let a Trot Nixon popup drop behind the mound after Lowell's home run, Gonzalez and Youkilis singled off reliever Brian Meadows, before Nixon came home on Mark Loretta's sacrifice fly, making it 6-1. With Kazmir's three wins prior to last night, he had become the first lefthander to beat the Sox at Fenway three times before his 23d birthday since before World War I. Kazmir, who won't turn 23 until January, had made nine starts against the Sox, more than any team in his career and was 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings. He was 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA in five starts at Fenway.

Kazmir had been virtually untouchable with a 4-0 record and a 0.65 ERA in four May starts before last night. He left after 5 1/3 innings, allowing six runs, five earned, on eight hits, two walks, and six strikeouts.

``He's a great young pitcher," said Lowell, who had three hits including another double, his 22d, in the seventh. He later scored on Nixon's single for the Sox' seventh run.

Rudy Seanez stayed in to pitch the ninth after relieving Keith Foulke in the eighth but he allowed a pair of hits and with runners at the corners and two outs, Jonathan Papelbon was summoned. He got Crawford to line out for his 17th save.

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