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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Walker back in his customary spot

After 16 games in exile, Todd Walker last night returned home -- to the second spot in the Red Sox' order. Walker, who had languished in one of the worst slumps of his career since late June, replaced Bill Mueller, who dropped back to the eighth spot, where he had batted .380 this season.

"We're going back to that lineup because we need to make a change right now and see if we can get things headed in the right direction," manager Grady Little said before the game. "That lineup was successful for us for a long time early in the season. We're going to see if it kick-starts everybody."

Walker responded by going 2 for 4 with a two-run single, only his second two-hit game of the month. Mueller went 2 for 3 with a two-run double. And Little said he plans to stick with the revised order, which was just fine with Walker.

"When you get moved around, your first instinct is to do too much," said Walker, who hit .167 in 13 games near the bottom of the order after Mueller replaced him. "I just have to get back to what I was doing, which was pulling the ball to the right side with a guy on second and no outs, and moving guys over and doing my job."

Walker entered the game hitting .185 (30 for 162) since July 1.

"My main problem has been thinking a little bit too much and putting too many balls in the air," he said. "Nomar [Garciaparra] and I had a conversation. As long as you know you're doing the technical things right, you can't worry about the results."

Walker's resurgence was well-timed considering Damian Jackson sprained a ligament in his left middle finger Wednesday diving into second base on a two-run double. Jackson had begun to play regularly at second base, though Walker was expected to return fulltime once he regained his hitting form.

Jackson, who has broken or dislocated nine of his fingers playing baseball, defending his decision to slide headfirst.

"That's the quickest way for me to get to my destination and I will continue to slide headfirst, " he said. "We're going to have to come up with a concoction to protect the finger when I slide now."

Until Jackson has recovered enough to play defense, the Sox are likely to use Kevin Millar or Gabe Kapler as emergency backups in the infield. They could play third base while Mueller could fill in at second or shortstop.

Dance fever

Millar received a rousing ovation when the Sox played a "Rally Karaoke" video on the center-field scoreboard of him as a young man dancing and lip-synching to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." Though he was a bit embarrassed by his dance moves, Millar described it as Boston's version of Anaheim's "Rally Monkey." The last time the Sox played the video -- in a closed-door session July 29 in Texas -- they erupted for 14 runs against the Rangers. Their 14 runs last night were the most since then.

"So look out, I'm in trouble," Millar said, anticipating the video appearing more often in the Fens.

Though he was pleased by the crowd's reaction, Millar said, "It was hilarious. I didn't know whether to take my hat off or just bury myself."

Also, just in case there was a misunderstanding, the last thing Millar wanted to do Wednesday in expressing amazement at the negativity surrounding the team was point a finger at Sox fans. He said his comments were directed only toward a segment of the media he viewed as bashing the team in the heat of a pennant race.

Little said he was unaware of numerous complaints by Sox players about the negativity they perceive.

"I guess it's because I don't read too much or listen [to talk radio] too much," he said. "I haven't heard anything about it. But these boys have had very few distractions this year. It's just a matter of going out on the field and getting the job done."

Company bash

When Manny Ramirez took Rich Harden deep leading off the third inning, he joined Jimmie Foxx as the only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in each of their first three seasons with the Sox. Foxx hit 30 or more in his first five seasons with the Sox from 1936-40. Only two other players in Sox history have slugged 30 or more homers in at least three straight seasons during their Sox tenures: Mo Vaughn (1995-98) and Jim Rice (1977-79). Ramirez became the seventh Sox player to go deep 30 or more times at least three times in their Sox careers.

No excuses

Little indicated Pedro Martinez's illness was not a factor in the pitcher's absence from the annual team photo session before Wednesday's game. The Sox said Martinez has attended only two of the six sessions since he joined the team. Little and "the managers the previous four years have talked to him about it," Little said. "He should have been there." . . . The Sox asked Triple A Pawtucket to hold off using righthander Bronson Arroyo in case they need him in Martinez's absence . . . Though Oakland took two of three in the series, the A's starters each recorded or matched the shortest outings of the season: Mark Mulder (three innings), Ted Lilly (3 1/3), and Rich Harden (2 2/3).

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