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RED SOX 6, MARINERS 4

Seattle saddled with loss

Suppan rides to the rescue of Red Sox

No two ways about it. It was time for Jeff Suppan to embrace the new Red Sox creed and "cowboy up."

Simply put, "cowboy up" is an old rodeo rallying cry -- transported to the Hub by Texans Mike Timlin and Kevin Millar -- for riders who need to pick themselves up when times are hard. And no member of the Sox needed to collect himself more than Suppan, who was in growing danger of losing his grip on a spot in the rotation after going winless with an 8.82 ERA in his first three outings in the heat of a pennant race.

So Suppan cowboyed up. In his finest start since he blanked the Cardinals in a complete-game shutout July 28 in his last appearance for the Pirates, Suppan last night lassoed the Mariners, holding the leaders of the American League West to two runs over 6 2/3 innings as he helped the Sox seal a 6-4 victory before 34,379 at Fenway Park.

Thanks largely to Suppan, the Sox reclaimed a share of the wild-card lead with the A's, who fell to the Blue Jays, 6-3.

"After the kind of outings he's had so far, I think this was very big for him," manager Grady Little said. "And it was very big for our ball club."

Suppan hardly pulled it off alone, of course. As the Mariners hovered within striking distance, 4-3, after trailing, 4-0, in the second inning, Manny Ramirez and Jason Varitek launched late homers to put the game out of reach. Ramirez whistled his 31st of the season leading off the seventh inning against Julio Mateo. And Varitek, who fanned three times in the game and twice left the bases loaded, set a career high for a season by slamming his 21st homer off Seattle sensation Shigetoshi Hasegawa in the eighth inning.

Varitek's homer was the first run Hasegawa allowed in 28 2/3 innings since June 1, a streak in which he eclipsed a franchise record for Seattle relievers of 24 straight scoreless innings set by Edwin Nunez in 1988.

"No matter how bad things got, I was real happy concentrating on our pitching staff," Varitek said. "That's where it counts. I helped a lot that way. Then all of a sudden, boom, you accidentally get a hit."

Nomar Garciaparra helped the Sox seize the early lead by knocking in two runs, while Millar and Trot Nixon knocked in two others.

For Suppan, whom the Sox acquired for Freddy Sanchez before the July 31 trading deadline, it was a fine way to mark the 200th start of his career. Seattle, making its lone visit to the Hub this year, has posted a winning record at Fenway only once in the last 17 years.

"Soup put a little bit of pressure on himself when he came over here, and that's to be expected," Nixon said. "But he knows what it's like here. It's a very demanding town. He loves the place. This is where he was drafted. Tonight, we saw the real Soup. He went out and did what he needed to do."

Suppan also received major assistance from Scott Williamson, who helped thwart a threat in the seventh inning and pitched a scoreless eighth. The appearance was Williamson's first since he surrendered a crushing three-run homer to Oakland's Ramon Hernandez Tuesday in a loss to the A's. He said he was treated between appearances with anti-inflammatories for mild shoulder tendinitis.

"Those were two tough losses against Oakland that we should have won," he said. "That's baseball. It happens. But we've bounced back two times now and we're going to keep fighting."

Then there was Nixon, who climbed the wall of the Sox bullpen in the ninth inning to make a sensational catch in robbing pinch Ben Davis of a two-run homer off Byung Hyun Kim.

"What a tremendous player," center fielder Johnny Damon said of Nixon. "That should have been a home run, but Trot made a great play at a great moment."

For Nixon, the catch indirectly avenged a near-homer that Minnesota's Bobby Kielty stole from him earlier in the season on a similarly spectacular play.

"Ben Davis is a good buddy of mine," Nixon said. "I hated to do it to him, but Kielty did it to me, so it's always nice to return a favor."

After Nixon's catch, Kim recorded the second out of the ninth before Mark McLemore laced a run-scoring single to center, bringing the ever-dangerous Bret Boone to the plate as the potential tying run. Boone also singled to center, clearing the way for Edgar Martinez, with the Mariners within one home-run swing of the lead.

But Kim, waging a tense, nine-pitch at-bat against Martinez, ultimately prevailed when Martinez popped out foul to Millar at first, calming the anxious crowd. The save was Kim's 10th for the Sox.

Little said Kim's rocky save raised no cause for concern.

"This kid's a battler," Little said. "He's been out there three days in a row, and he wasn't pinpoint by any means but he could be tomorrow just as easily."

Suppan allowed a total of six hits and did not walk a batter. Varitek attributed the righthander's success to progressive improvement with his control and greater understanding between the catcher and pitcher.

"It was a big game," Varitek said. "We needed it."

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