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RED SOX 6, BLUE JAYS 3

Halladay greetings

Sox deliver powerful message to Jays' ace

Only three runs down after four innings? A mere trifle for the Boston bashers these days. Three swings of the bat were all they needed last night to smack down the Toronto Blue Jays and calm their jittery fandom on the eve of this weekend's critical showdown here with the Yankees, who were flogged at home again by the White Sox.

"It's incredible what we've got going this year," declared second baseman Todd Walker, after the Red Sox had pulled off their latest unlikely comeback, knocking out ace Roy Halladay and his Canadian playmates, 6-3, on a three-run homer by Jason Varitek, a two-run blast by Walker, and a solo shot by David Ortiz before a delighted (and relieved) capacity crowd of 34,206 at Fenway Park.

At the very least, what they've got going is implausible. After losing, 12-9, to these same Jays Tuesday, the Sox didn't figure to have a better shot last night. Not with Halladay, the league co-leader in wins (17), up against 38-year-old John Burkett, who was pitching on three days' rest for the first time in five years and was 0-2 with a 14.73 ERA against Toronto this season.

And certainly not after Burkett fell behind, 2-0, after just four batters when Carlos Delgado cracked a soaring shot into the Monster seats above the 379-foot mark in center field.

But after climbing out of a 7-1 chasm a night earlier, a 3-0 gap was a mere pothole for a Boston club that now has won 11 games after trailing by three or more runs. "All we need is a bloop, a walk, a bloop and a blast," Varitek told Burkett before the fireworks began in the fifth.

Or three blasts, for good measure. Walker, who thought he had one Tuesday but barely made it to second when the ball fell short, belted his first since July 24, after 112 at-bats without one. And Ortiz (his career-high 21st), went out of the yard for the fifth time in his last six starts.

"Tonight's a perfect example of why you want nine guys in the lineup that can hit," said Walker, after eight of them had put up at least one base hit and he, Varitek, and Ortiz had two apiece. It marked the eighth straight game that the Sox had 10 hits or more, during which they've scored 62 runs, with 14 homers.

So it goes for this Home Run Derby sideshow doubling as a baseball team. With Walker's homer (his 10th), nine Sox have hit 10 or more this season. That hadn't happened in the club's 103-year history. With 196 already in the book and 29 games remaining, this bunch is odds-on to surpass the franchise record of 213 set in 1977.

Once Burkett wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by getting designated hitter Greg Myers to ground to second, the evening turned around abruptly. Halladay, who'd allowed only three singles, walked Kevin Millar on four pitches. Then, after Trot Nixon fanned, Bill Mueller nicked Halladay for a single to right.

Up came Varitek, who'd only hit .163 in his previous 13 games, crushing the next pitch into the stands in deep center and pumping his fist as he rounded first. "Tek made us believe we could get to Halladay," Walker said.

For four innings, it hadn't seemed likely. Halladay had all ground balls and strikeouts. "He could have had no-hit stuff," testified Millar. "That's the best I've seen him throw. It was 97 miles an hour, 94 miles on the sink. But the lefties got to him tonight."

Walker delivered the killer with two outs in the seventh, reaching for a 0-2 ball that was down and in and golfing it into the Boston bullpen to score Johnny Damon ahead of him. Then, in the eighth, Ortiz muscled a 1-2 pitch into the bleachers to finish Halladay and the evening.

"That is special," proclaimed manager Grady Little, whose club now has won six of seven after losing nine of 13. "This guy has had our number all season long, and to be able to get to him out there tonight -- it was big for our club."

Big, too, was the gritty performance by Burkett, who provided a solid six innings (three runs, seven hits), on a night when the Sox had to have a quality start. "I'm just glad that holding them close was good enough tonight," he said.

And the bullpen, which came unhinged in Tuesday's five-run eighth, was superb, with winner Mike Timlin (his third victory over the Jays this season), Alan Embree, and closer Byung Hyun Kim (his 11th save, with three strikeouts) slamming the door over the final three innings.

On a night when the Yankees were taking another shocking beating in Babe Ruth's house -- 11-2 this time -- it was enough to get the Fens faithful examining the AL East standings again -- and fantasizing. Another New York loss to Chicago this afternoon, a Sox sweep this weekend, and the town team is a half-game out on Labor Day. You can check the math.

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