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Boston hanging on in AL wild-card race

9/13/2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Boston is not fading without a
fight.

With four runs in the ninth inning, the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep of Tampa Bay on Thursday that kept alive their faint hopes in the AL wild card race.

Carlos Baerga tied the score with a bloop single, and Trot Nixon hit a go-ahead two-run single as the Red Sox rallied to a 6-3 victory.

"It turned out good for the Red Sox, that's all I can say,''
Boston manager Grady Little said.

Limited to four hits in the first eight innings, Boston trailed
3-2 going to the ninth.

Esteban Yan (6-8), who blew his AL-leading eighth save in 25 chances, walked Nomar Garciaparra leading off and Manny Ramirez singled.

One out later, Yan threw a wild pitch, and Brian Daubach walked.
Baerga drove in the tying run with a bloop hit that went off the
glove of shortstop Chris Gomez, who attempted an over-the-shoulder
catch.

"It hit the heel of my glove,'' Gomez said. "I should have had
it.''

Gomez then threw the ball toward the plate, seeking a forceout. First baseman Steve Cox dropped the ball as he cut it off near the mound.

"I messed up,'' Cox said. "I positioned myself wrong, and it ended up costing us the ballgame.''

Nixon singled to right-center for a 5-3 lead, and Rey Sanchez followed with an RBI grounder.

"Everything is going our way right now,'' Baerga said. "We're still fighting. We want to finish strong. You never know what can happen.''

Ugueth Urbina pitched a one-hit ninth for his 34th save in 39
chances. Tampa Bay dropped to 48-98, the worst record in the major
leagues.

Boston, in search of its first World Series title since 1918, is 7½ games behind in the wild card race and has just 17 games left to make up the deficit.

"We've got to put a few wins together,'' Nixon said. "Then, hopefully, that snowball effect will happen. You just can't hope that the snowball effect happens. You've got to go out there and make it happen.''

Tim Wakefield (10-5) allowed one earned run and seven hits in
eight innings, striking out six and walking three. If the Red Sox
had not rallied, he would have gotten his first complete game since
Aug. 19, 1998, against Kansas City.

"Our offense not only picked me up, but picked us up team-wise,'' Wakefield said.

Boston went 10-0 at Tampa Bay. It's the first time the Red Sox
went undefeated with 10 or more wins at an opponent's park since
1912 against the New York Yankees.

Victor Zambrano allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings. The Devil Rays went 1-9 on a just-completed homestand, getting outscored 77-30.

Plate umpire Matt Hollowell issued a warning in the sixth when a
1-0 pitch from Zambrano went high-and-inside to Garciaparra with
runners on second and third. Earlier in the series, Boston's Derek
Lowe and Tampa Bay's Lee Gardner were ejected without warnings. The
staffs of Tampa Bay (83) and Boston (80) are first and second in
the major leagues in hitting batters.

After Garciaparra walked to loaded the bases, Ramirez hit into
an inning-ending double play.

In the bottom half, a Wakefield knuckleball went behind Gomez,
who was attempting to bunt. No warning was given.

Brian Daubach put Boston up 1-0 with a second-inning homer, but Aubrey Huff tied it in the bottom half with his 23rd homer.

Russ Johnson, making his first start since July 2, gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead with an RBI single in the fifth. He left the team in July to undergo treatment for depression.

Doug Mirabelli's sacrifice fly tied it in the seventh, but Jason Conti hit an RBI single in the bottom half.

"I think we were hoping to come in and try and take four
games,'' Nixon said. "We needed that to stay in this thing.''

Game notes
Tampa Bay has allowed an AL-leading 196 homers. ... Huff is 2-for-13 against Wakefield. Both hits are homers. ... The Devil Rays have lost 10 times after leading with one or two outs in the
ninth. ... Wakeland reached double-digits in wins for the first time since 1998. ... Baerga has an AL-best 10 pinch-hits.