Red Sox relinquish lead late, slip behind Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Boston Red Sox insist their
plight is not nearly as bad as it may seem.

The World Series champions fell out of first place in the AL
East for the first time in more than two months Wednesday night,
but remain confident they can fight off a strong challenge from the
New York Yankees and win the division.

"We're not 10 games back. We're a half-game back," pitcher
Mike Timlin said after the Red Sox squandered an eighth-inning lead
and lost to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-4. "We've been
in first place or fighting for first place all year long. This is
not season-ending by any means."

Relishing their role as spoilers, the Devil Rays rallied for
five runs in the eighth off Tim Wakefield and Timlin (7-3), who
replaced the Red Sox starter and allowed three runs in one-third of
an inning.

Jorge Cantu chased Wakefield with a two-out RBI single, and
Jonny Gomes' two-run triple off Timlin put the Devil Rays ahead
5-4. Eric Munson followed with an RBI double and Alex Gonzalez
added a run-scoring single to ensure Boston's 64-day stay atop the
division would end.

The loss, coupled with New York's 2-1 victory over Baltimore,
left the Yankees in first place for the first time since after
games of July 18. Boston opened a season-high 5½-game lead on Aug.
10 and led by four after Curt Schilling beat New York on Sept. 10.

"It's an ill-timed loss, but what are you going to do?" Timlin

The Red Sox have lost six of 11 while the Yankees went 9-1.

"What will matter is where we end up," Boston manager Terry
Francona added. "How we handle the next 10 days."

Manny Ramirez homered for the third time in two games for the
Red Sox, who appeared to be in good shape when Wakefield took a 4-2
lead into the eighth. The knuckleballer is 13-1 lifetime against
the Devil Rays and had allowed one hit and only three baserunners
over the previous five innings.

Trever Miller (2-2) pitched 1 1/3 innings for the victory. Danys
Baez worked the ninth to earn his 39th save in 47 opportunities for
the Devil Rays, who are in the middle of a nine-game stretch
against playoff contenders.

Tampa Bay, which took two of three from Boston, plays its next
six against the Angels and Indians.

"You look forward to the ballgame a little more, knowing that
you can sidetrack somebody's chances," Devil Rays manager Lou
Piniella said.

Boston is one game behind Cleveland in the wild-card race.

"We're in the spoiler role, but we're not really trying to mess
with the standings," Gomes said. "We're just trying to win."

Ramirez, who homered twice against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night,
led off the fifth inning with his 39th homer, a line-drive shot off
starter Scott Kazmir, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3

Travis Lee hit a solo homer off Wakefield in the second, and
Tampa Bay added a run later in the inning on second baseman Alex
Cora's throwing error.

Before the game, Piniella declined to discuss reports that the
Devil Rays have reached an agreement with him to buy out the final
season of a $13 million contract that runs through 2006.

"I'm going to steal a page from Joe Torre, and I'm not going to
comment about this at all until the end of the year," Piniella

"My primary concern here is our team and our players. I don't
want any distractions. When the time is appropriate, we'll comment
about my situation."

The Devil Rays also declined comment.

A night after swatting five homers and tying an AL record by
having four players finish with four hits apiece, the Red Sox
staked Wakefield to an early lead without help from the long ball.

Cora had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Bill Mueller and Edgar
Renteria followed with RBI singles to put the Red Sox ahead 3-0 in
the third. The damage could have been a lot worse if Kazmir hadn't
gotten Ramirez to pop to second with the bases loaded to end the
inning and drop to 1-for-16 lifetime against the rookie

The Boston slugger snapped the drought his next time up, though,
smacking the first pitch of the fifth into the left-field stands
for a 4-2 lead. Ramirez and David Ortiz, who also homered twice
Tuesday night, have combined for 85 homers -- a single-season record
for Boston teammates.

Game notes
Ramirez and Ortiz combined for 84 homers in 2004. ... Ortiz
went 0-for-4 with a walk, ending a 10-game hitting streak. ...
Wakefield allowed four runs and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings. ...
Red Sox CF Johnny Damon had a cortisone shot in his ailing left
shoulder and was out of the starting lineup. Damon expects to play
Friday when the team opens a three-game series at Baltimore. ...
Schilling left the team to tend to a personal matter.