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Understudy pitched in to help the cause

It was going to be just another day at the office for Casey Fossum. Get up, head over to Fenway Park, and take a spot in the bullpen in a long-relief role.

At approximately 1 p.m. yesterday, all that changed. Red Sox manager Grady Little was on the phone. Pedro Martinez, last night's scheduled starter against the Oakland A's, was sick. Time for Fossum to reestablish his credentials as a starting pitcher.

Which is what he did to a point, pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing five runs on eight hits in a 14-5 Red Sox win in the final game of a three-game series that was taking on crucial overtones, considering the A's had won the previous two games.

"Hey, this is where heroes are made," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, looking to boost Fossum's ego that may have been damaged by an up-and-down season. "The guy threw a great game. Casey Fossum should look in the mirror to find out what kind of guy he is."

Fossum thinks he knows. Or hopes he does, at least. Last night was his first appearance in more than a week and his first start in two weeks. That the lefthander didn't know he was starting until six hours before the game may have been a blessing, since it limited the fret factor in a game the Red Sox admitted they needed.

He had started the season with the Red Sox, but then came down with a case of tendinitis, which put him on the disabled list for 31 games. After a rehab stint in Pawtucket, he came back on Aug. 8 and made his first start in a role that was uncertain at best.

It still is. But Fossum showed signs of life that has everyone optimistic about what might happen as the season moves into crunch time -- the final six weeks. His first pitches last night indicated some nerves, if nothing else, as the A's quickly got a run.

But this was not a night when the Red Sox lineup was going to leave men on base. They pounded at will and Fossum had the luxury of being able to overcome many of his mistakes.

"It was a battle and he just battled his way through it," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

The reviews elsewhere were equally encouraging. "I thought Casey had a good day out there," said Little. "He got out to a little shaky start there in the first and third innings but he battled through it and did a heck of a job for us when we really needed it."

Fossum said he felt he was a work-in-progress through the game, which ended for him with one out in the sixth after 96 pitches.

"I think I got better as the game went along," said Fossum. "I hadn't pitched in 10 days off the mound or seen a hitter. I think I settled down a little bit and got better as I went."

Fossum said the change in routine required some personal adjustments. "I was surprised that everything happened," said Fossum, "because Pedro seemed fine yesterday. I got some good sleep last night. Maybe if I would have known I would have been thinking about it more."

Now he will think about what it will mean in the immediate future. "Hopefully, I'll bounce back good," said Fossum. "My arm felt great today. I didn't feel anything in my arm and we'll see how I recover. I might be back in the bullpen. Hopefully I'm back in the bullpen because that means Pedro is coming back."

Fossum also hopes that he is coming back into form. Last night was a start in more ways than one.

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