Manny powers Sox in grand style

Manny powers Sox in grand style

ARLINGTON -- With the bullpen depleted and the team slumping, Red Sox manager Terry Francona gave the ball to the right man.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield continued a monthlong surge, working eight innings and taking advantage of an early offensive outburst that included a historic home run by Manny Ramirez to stop the Texas Rangers, 7-4, on Tuesday at Ameriquest Field.

"Wake gave us a huge effort against a really good lineup," Francona said after Wakefield's fourth consecutive victory. "Knowing where our bullpen is and how much we needed this, he did the job."

He had plenty of help. The Boston offense jumped on Rangers starter Chris Young (8-5) for three home runs in the first three innings, staking Wakefield (8-6) to a 7-0 lead.

The longest blast was David Ortiz's 416-foot shot to center field in the first, but the biggest was a third-inning grand slam off the bat of Manny Ramirez that blew the game open. It was the 20th grand slam of Ramirez's career, moving him past Eddie Murray into second place on the all-time list, behind only Lou Gehrig's 23.

"Manny does what Manny does," Francona said. "It's incredible. He just has a knack. Some guys are just RBI guys. He jumps on balls in those situations."

The Red Sox jumped all over Young, who was replaced after giving up a solo homer to Bill Mueller in the third. Rangers relievers Ron Mahay and Doug Brocail held the Sox scoreless the rest of the night, but by then the Red Sox, who lead the Majors in runs scored, had already done enough damage.

"I knew I wasn't sharp and they took advantage of that," said Young, who allowed six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. "It's a team that you have to be sharp from the get-go. I wasn't, and I paid the price."

Wakefield, on the other hand, was sharp enough to go to 4-0 in his five starts since losing at St. Louis on June 6.

He ran into trouble in the fifth and sixth, allowing the Rangers to climb back to within three runs thanks to Gary Matthews' two-run homer and RBIs from Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, but Wakefield hung on, finishing with four runs and eight hits allowed in eight innings.

"When you get that kind of a lead, it makes your job easier," Wakefield said. "That said, you can't take [the Rangers'] offense for granted. It was a struggle for eight innings. It was a great win with what's up with our bullpen."

Chasing Gehrig
Red Sox at Rangers, July 5
By notching a grand slam in the third inning, Manny Ramirez moved into sole possession of second place in career grand slams.
1.Lou Gehrig23
2.Manny Ramirez20
3.Eddie Murray19
4. tieRobin Ventura18
4. tieWillie McCovey18
6. tieJimmie Foxx17
6. tieTed Williams17
8. tieHank Aaron16
8. tieBabe Ruth16
8. tieDave Kingman16
Ramirez also increased his Major League-leading RBI total to 77. He now has 412 homers in his career.

What's up with the bullpen is that it has been down lately. Before Tuesday's game, Francona announced that struggling closer Keith Foulke was returning to Boston for MRI exams on both knees, and that he could wind up on the disabled list. In addition, relievers Mike Embree, Jeremi Gonzalez and Mike Timlin had all had extensive work recently and needed some time off.

With no closer, Francona used the 39-year-old Timlin to work the ninth. He set the Rangers down in order to earn his second save of the season. And while Timlin said it was "just another inning," it sure looked big to the Sox.

"Mike's always been efficient," Francona said, "but he kept the drama out of that game."

Well, maybe there was a little drama in the ninth. With one out and nobody on, Matthews hit a sinking liner to shallow center. Johnny Damon -- who earlier in the night extended his career-best hitting streak to 21 games -- raced in and made a diving catch and got up holding his already aching shoulder.

"I kind of popped some body parts out of place," Damon said, "but they put them back. It's all taken care of."

So is Boston's hold on first place in the American League East, which seemed tenuous after a difficult loss Monday night. Heading into the bottom of the ninth with a lead that night, Foulke allowed two runs and the Sox lost, 6-5, their fifth defeat in seven games. But the Sox came out swinging and now lead the Orioles by 3 1/2 games and the Yankees by four.

"You can't let a loss like that take your confidence," Francona said. "That's never been a problem here. These guys will bounce back. Not a lot of teams can do that."

"The great thing is that we have a 3 1/2-game lead and we still haven't played that great," Damon said. "That says a lot. Hats off to us."

Andy Friedlander is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.