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RED SOX 4, TIGERS 3

Getting better with age

Wakefield and Timlin pitch in to give Red Sox a shot of adrenaline

DETROIT -- Mike Timlin and John Halama stood in a corner of the Red Sox clubhouse last night, watching an ESPN segment detailing the early-season struggles of the Yankees, a team making near-daily concessions to age and expectation.

The Sox began this season in position to make similar concessions, and yet, a night after the Tampa Bay castoff, Halama, won his debut start, the 39-year-old Timlin combined with 38-year-old Tim Wakefield to shut down the Detroit Tigers, 4-3. The win, before an announced crowd of 23,295 at Comerica Park, was Boston's fourth in five games.

The Sox, at 15-12, are still finding their way, but last night they demonstrated why there is more here to be pleased with than worried about.

Timlin, for instance. He made a career-high 76 appearances last season, posted an ERA (4.13) that was his highest since 2000, and made himself better. He added a curveball this year, a pitch he'd experimented with on the side in seasons past but never ever used in a game.

Last night he threw two to Rondell White in the eighth inning, before getting White to ground out to shortstop Edgar Renteria on a slider.

"It's an evolving thing," Timlin said. "Everyone knows I throw a sinker. It's no secret. After 14 years I have to throw something that keeps them off balance. I was fastball-slider. Now I need to throw something a little slower.

"If I can throw it for a strike or for a bad swing, everyone on their bench says, 'Whoa.' It's all about timing."

And adaptation. Timlin's ERA dropped to 1.23 last night, the lowest on the team, not including Mike Myers and Lenny DiNardo, who have combined to pitch four scoreless innings. Timlin has allowed only two runs in 14 appearances and none in his last eight appearances.

Renteria, meanwhile, isn't swinging the bat like he can, but he made two key defensive plays -- one dynamic -- last night.

On the White ground out in the eighth, the 29-year-old shortstop ranged deep into the hole, got to the ball, leaped, pivoted, and beat White with the throw.

"I knew he had a shot to catch it," Timlin said. "I didn't think he had a shot to throw him out."

The play was huge, because Timlin had worked two innings Tuesday night, and manager Terry Francona wasn't going to force him to face more than three batters.

"If [White] gets on we end up going to [Keith] Foulke in the eighth," said Francona.

Renteria also made a precise relay throw to home to cut down Carlos Guillen in the fifth. That limited Detroit to two runs in what was one of those weird innings -- six batters, five hits.

Omar Infante doubled to lead off the inning, Ramon Martinez singled, and Brandon Inge grounded to Sox starter Tim Wakefield, who began a double play that scored Infante. Ivan Rodriguez and Guillen singled, and White followed with a double that turned around Manny Ramirez in left and bounced off his glove high above his head.

"He turned the wrong way," Francona said. "But to his credit, he got it and got it where he needed to, to give Edgar a chance."

Rodriguez scored with ease on the play but Renteria gunned down a greedy Guillen at home to end the inning. Rodriguez's run had tied the game at 3-3.

"He made a perfect throw," Guillen said. "[Doug] Mirabelli blocked me off the plate because the throw came that way. It was a perfect throw and tag."

Johnny Damon, atop the Sox' lineup, continued to make the offense go. Damon had singled three times by the fourth inning last night, extending his league-best hitting streak to 11 games. He's hit .481 (25 for 52) during the streak with 10 runs scored, five doubles, a triple, a home run, and 13 RBIs.

He wore a bulky ice wrap just above his left knee following the game and almost didn't play because of what he called "a little strain on my lower hamstring."

"Tito [Francona] was kind of worried all day, was second-guessing whether I should play," Damon said. "I told him I'd be OK. Take me out and it changes the way people pitch to us."

With three more hits Damon lifted his average to .371. Before this season he was just a .261 career hitter in April. He hit .365 this April and has built upon that in May. Why?

"I'm at ease with myself, at peace," Damon said. "I know this is a big year for me. Hopefully, the Red Sox can see with me on the team we're going to win a lot more games. Yeah, I do have fun, I do party. I'm not going to play this game and tell my kids I played in the big leagues and went back to my hotel room and did nothing. I'm going to have fun."

Kevin Youkilis knocked in the winning run in the eighth off Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth, the power reliever, began the inning by throwing four pitches a combined 384 miles per hour but all for balls, walking Jay Payton. With one out Farnsworth walked Mark Bellhorn, his former Cubs teammate, on a 99-m.p.h. fastball.

Up came Youkilis, who lined a run-scoring single to left for a 4-3 lead. In five games this year, Youkilis is hitting .467 (7 for 15) with four RBIs.

His RBI single allowed the Sox to lift Tim Wakefield, who'd thrown 110 pitches but was headed back out for the eighth if the game had remained tied. Wakefield gave up a season-high 10 hits but won, running his record to 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA. The victory was his 117th with the Sox, tying him with Pedro Martinez and Joe Wood for fifth on the club's all-time list.

Foulke saved it for Wakefield, allowing a two-out single to pinch hitter Dmitri Young before getting the No. 9 hitter, Martinez, to fly out to right, where Payton made a basket catch on the run to end it.

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