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Spills and thrills

Clement is struck by line drive, but Sox stick together

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There was the captain, next to his locker, the body that had cranked out a solo homer in the ninth and an RBI double in the 10th deservedly soaking in ice.

There was the right fielder, slumped in a blue leather recliner, either out of fatigue or pain, or both, a strained oblique muscle having abbreviated his night -- and, quite possibly, his season.

There was the manager, quickly downing his second plate of food -- one is entitled to seconds after 3 hours 48 minutes of baseball that proved, in the 100th game of the season, to be the most emotional.

There was the starting pitcher, present only in the television replays of the pitch to Carl Crawford, the swing, and the screaming liner, impacting Matt Clement near his right ear and sending him to the ground.

There was the third baseman, kneeling at the edge of the mound after Clement was felled, apparently in prayer, then later delivering an RBI single in the seventh and a crushed RBI double over first base in the ninth that sent the game to extra innings.

And there was, amid uncertainty and concern, a degree of accomplishment. The Red Sox won an epic game, 10-9, in 10 innings last night, despite blowing a 5-0 lead. In fact, there were a lot of ''despites."

They won despite Chad Bradford, a seventh-inning righthanded setup man, entering in the third inning in relief of Clement and surrendering, among three hits, a ceiling-scraper of a grand slam to Aubrey Huff that turned a 5-1 game into a 5-5 tie.

They won despite Jorge Cantu's fly ball to deep center with one out and a man on first in the ninth.

''I don't think negative in there [in the dugout] ever," Terry Francona said, but even the skipper acknowledged, ''I actually thought the ball was going to go out."

Johnny Damon drifted, and jumped. Did he catch it? It was difficult to tell. The loyalties of the Tampa Bay crowd, which would chant ''Ortiz, Ortiz" during an at-bat for David Ortiz, were too split to gauge whether the cheer was for a homer or a catch. And then Damon produced the ball.

Curt Schilling, who would have suffered his second relief loss in as many nights, waited for Damon -- the guy who didn't want him closing in the first place -- at the third-base bag. What did he say to Damon?

''Nice job," Damon said. ''You saved the game."

Tied at 8-8, Damon strode to the plate in the top of the 10th and unloaded on All-Star closer Danys Baez's first offering of the inning, launching a go-ahead home run to right.

''That's unbelievable," Francona said.

Clutch, thy face is Johnny Damon. Proof? With one aggressive swing -- the kind that suggests his right shoulder really has healed -- the Sox free-agent-to-be lifted his average after the seventh inning this season to .390 with 4 home runs and 22 RBIs.

''I knew we didn't have much more going for us," Damon said.

He'd looked down to the bullpen before that inning and saw, basically, nothing. Francona wanted to rest Mike Timlin at all cost. The next pitcher, if this game had gone 11 innings? Bronson Arroyo.

But Jason Varitek helped make sure it didn't. His double with Edgar Renteria tacked on another run -- at the time just an insurance run but what proved to be the game winner when Tampa Bay plated one in the 10th before Schilling finished it for his second decision in as many nights.

The club had gone 98 games without playing extra innings but has now needed a 10th inning to decide consecutive contests.

''I was as proud of this team tonight [as I have been all season]," Francona said. ''It wasn't easy. Nothing was easy. I think guys gave tonight more than they had."

And so the Sox wake up this morning feeling pretty good about the result but full of nervous wonder. Clement, who seemed to avert major injury, will wake up in a hospital bed, be released at some point, and expects to travel home with the team tonight.

Nixon will have an MRI first thing today, to determine how long -- four weeks? six? -- he will be out.

But, perhaps the Red Sox -- in losing some important people for an indeterminate amount of time -- found themselves. Based upon their altruistic postgame thoughts -- witness: Nixon, slumped, saying, ''Matt's my main concern" -- this could be a night the Red Sox will look back upon as something seminal.

''Watching these guys doesn't surprise me," Nixon said.

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