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Curtain falls on regular season

Curtain falls on regular season

BOSTON -- The Red Sox lost the last game of the 2007 regular season on Sunday, 3-2, in front of a relaxed sellout crowd at Fenway Park.

Free of playoff implications in Boston, game No. 162 provided manager Terry Francona the opportunity to sit Red Sox regulars like Curt Schilling, the originally scheduled starting pitcher. Julian Tavarez got the spot start, allowing three runs in three innings.

Still, the Red Sox played their entire starting lineup, minus J.D. Drew, Saturday's star. As Boston fought back from an early 3-0 deficit, Francona pulled his regulars before an appreciative crowd.

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In the fifth, Bobby Kielty pinch-ran for Manny Ramirez. In the sixth, Alex Cora and Royce Clayton came out to replace Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell, respectively, allowing the infielders to receive a curtain call as they jogged to the dugout.

"I just wish we had enough extra guys," said manager Terry Francona, "where you could kind of do it with everybody that's been out there all year. Just, like, to be able to ... give the fans a chance to show the players their appreciation."

Jason Varitek, asked by manager Francona to hit for one more at-bat, stayed in until the sixth. The Red Sox captain was only happy to, he said, "because I wanted to continue to mainly get a few at-bats and see some pitches, because I didn't play yesterday."

Varitek launched his 17th home run into the right-field bleachers.

"I mean, hitting a home run, that's beside the point," Varitek said. "Just having an opportunity to have some good at-bats and see some more pitches [is]."

After the game, Varitek was told that Francona had intended to pinch-run for him, so he, too, could receive a standing ovation. Varitek laughed.

"It found the good part of the bat," he said.

In the seventh, Kevin Youkilis and Coco Crisp also exited the game to boisterous applause. That, with Varitek's departure, allowed reserves like Kevin Cash and Brandon Moss, who are not likely to make the playoff roster, to get in the game.

"If you want to play baseball, and you want to play baseball in the Major Leagues," said Moss, "this is where you want to play -- in a place like this."

Moss started a ninth-inning rally off Twins closer Joe Nathan with a walk. The Red Sox managed to load the bases before Doug Mirabelli struck out to end the game.

Perhaps most encouraging for Boston, on a day that it lost its 66th and final game, was the performance of the bullpen. Four relievers twirled five innings of perfect ball before closer Jonathan Papelbon gave up a hit in a scoreless ninth.

"[They] had clean innings," Francona said. "They threw strikes and didn't get stretched out too much. It worked out very well."

Jon Lester threw two innings. Francona declined to say whether the Red Sox lefty, who finished with a 4.57 ERA in 63 innings, would make the playoff roster. Many of the reserves who finished up Sunday's game were merely being given a last opportunity to compete in 2007.

"The next couple of weeks, we have decisions to make," Francona said. "I don't want you to read too much into [Lester's appearance]. Just, again, it seemed like a good time to give him a couple of innings."

On the season's final day, Pedroia and Youkilis completed the 2007 schedule as new record holders. By hitting .3173, Pedroia recorded the highest season average by a rookie second baseman in Major League history, besting Jim Viox's 94-year-old record of .3171. Youkilis completed his 135th game at first without an error, finishing with a 1.000 fielding percentage in 1,079 chances. That broke Stuffy McInnis' record of .999, set in 1921.

Lowell, a free-agent-to-be, drove in 120 runs in 2007, a new Red Sox record for a third basemen, besting Butch Hobson's 112 set in 1977.

The Red Sox drew 36,364 fans, extending their sell-out streak to 388 straight home games. Their regular-season haul of 2,971,825 fans set a new franchise record for the eighth season in a row, something no team has done.

Most importantly for the Red Sox, who will prepare to host the Angels in Game 1 of the ALDS on Wednesday, they are healthy.

"Now that this season's concluded and we're ready to start another one," Francona said, "I think we're in a good position. We're healthy, we seem to be where guys can be productive. Nothing's ensured, but we're in a good position where we should be able to play our best baseball."

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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