Devil Rays 4, Red Sox 3

Red Sox, Nixon hit the wall in 10th

Devil Rays' Huff doubles to tag Schilling with loss

By Chris Snow
Globe Staff / July 26, 2005
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Aubrey Huff ended last night's game but only began the debate.

Should Trot Nixon have jumped in all-or-nothing pursuit of Huff's 10th-inning liner to right with two outs and Jorge Cantu on first base?

Or should Nixon have taken the conservative route, held up, played the ball off the wall, and returned the ball to the right hand of closer Curt Schilling, with two on, two out, and Alex Gonzalez coming up?

''If it's in front of you, you're conservative," Terry Francona said after the game, speaking for Nixon, who uncharacteristically did not make himself available to reporters. ''Once it's over him, if he pulls up and that ball caroms like it did . . . I'd rather him go after it."

Nixon left his feet, despite appearing to have almost no chance of reeling in the ball, which ricocheted off the wall and past the Sox right fielder.

''In that situation," Schilling said, ''we're playing no doubles. I didn't think that would end the game there. He hit it well. Better than I thought he did."

Huff's run-scoring wall ball sent the Sox to a 4-3, 10-inning loss before an announced 21,550 at Tropicana Field in Boston's first extra-inning game of the season.

In falling to 2-3 on this seven-game trip to Chicago and Tampa Bay, the Sox blew a 3-2 seventh-inning lead. Johnny Damon supplied that advantage, erasing a 2-1 Tampa Bay edge in the top of the seventh with a majestic blast off the upper reaches of the foul pole in right field, his sixth in his last 36 games after leaving the yard just once in his first 57.

But David Wells, solid if unspectacular (6 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs), made one pitch he wanted back -- a slide-step sinker that No. 9 hitter Nick Green knocked into right field in the seventh with a man already aboard -- ending Wells's night and giving Tampa Bay two on with one out.

''That's the one that's sitting with me," Wells said. ''I'm not happy with it."

His personal displeasure lingered because Mike Timlin entered in relief and allowed yet another inherited runner to score (he's now allowed 13 of 20 on the season). Julio Lugo, Timlin's first batter, stayed on an outside fastball and lined it into right center, scoring pinch runner Joey Gathright.

Timlin escaped the inning without further damage -- Carl Crawford and Cantu flied out with runners on first and second -- but the game was tied at 3-3.

Still, the Sox had an excellent opportunity to end this in the ninth and maintain their pursuit of a record that is now safe. The 1936 St. Louis Browns' mark of 126 straight games without an extra-inning affair will not be challenged in 2005.

That's because, in the Sox ninth, Devil Rays reliever Jesus Colome masterfully pitched out of a self-created jam. With one out, he gave up a single to Tony Graffanino (2 for 3 with a walk). Adam Stern pinch ran and easily advanced to third on a single chopped through the right side by Damon. The next batter, Edgar Renteria, grounded a ball up the middle.

Colome made a motion as if he were going to throw to second in an attempt to begin a double play. But he faked there and turned to see Stern about a third of the way down the third-base line.

Colome raced toward Stern, who couldn't deke the righty reliever, and was tagged out. The play by the rookie looked worse than it really was -- Damon wound up in scoring position and Colome was going to be careful with David Ortiz anyhow, so the Sox figured to have the bases loaded with two outs whether Stern was hung up and tagged out or held at third as Renteria was cut down at first.

Ortiz walked on four pitches to load the bases. The Sox had the optimal situation -- the man (Manny Ramirez) with the most grand slams of anyone not named Lou Gehrig coming up -- but that proved an optimal illusion when Ramirez flied out to right.

Schilling entered and pitched a dominant ninth inning -- striking out Pete LaForest and Green on untouchable splitters and getting Lugo to ground out.

Crawford led off the Tampa Bay 10th with a single, and Cantu attempted to advance him with a bunt. A nimble Schilling erased Crawford at second with a throw that nearly took Renteria off the bag.

''I thought I made a big mistake on the bunt," Schilling said. ''We could have had two there."

The next batter, Jonny Gomes, popped up to second, bringing up Huff.

''I threw so many good [splitters] tonight," Schilling said. ''I had a real good one tonight, right up until the last pitch."

Huff said he was looking fastball, recognized the splitter, and ''tried to speed up my swing and get the head of the bat in front of it."

''He's such a good hitter," Schilling lamented.

But, the question is: How good would Gonzalez have been if he'd come up next, with two on and two out? He's a .231 (3 for 13) hitter career vs. Schilling.

Had Schilling gotten that opportunity -- and one more out -- last night could have provided a telling glimpse into his physical capabilities.

''He could have gone four [innings]," Francona said. ''Why not? He's a starter. He's gone 80 pitches [in his rehab]. That's fine. He just had to keep hold of them."

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