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Garciaparra lights it up

He provides spark that leads to party

With a bottle of champagne in his right hand and a cigar in his left, Nomar Garciaparra stood a few paces from the dugout and watched his teammates celebrate. They jumped up and down on the pitcher's mound, requested the team theme song, "Cowboy Up," over the Fenway Park sound system, then doused fans with any celebratory liquid available.

But Garciaparra seemed to prefer the sideline vantage point, soaking in the scene with a smile on his face. He enjoyed the fact that Boston clinched the wild-card berth with a 14-3 win over Baltimore last night, though he was also thinking ahead to the playoffs.

Straining to speak over the din, Garciaparra said, "There's so much more we want to accomplish. It's such a great feeling, but we know we've got a lot left. This is what it is about. Getting into the playoffs, but we want to accomplish more. [Bringing the World Series to Boston] was our goal in the beginning. This is just a step toward it."

He couldn't emphasize the point enough. Figuratively, he kept pointing west, toward Oakland and the next challenge. On the field, he kept pointing toward the stands and clapping in recognition of the fans.

If clinching a playoff berth brought about an hour of festivities that moved back and forth from the clubhouse to the field, imagine what might happen if the Red Sox, well, you know. Garciaparra was particularly appreciative of the fan support the team received last night and throughout the season. He was the first Red Sox player to venture into the outfield, running a quasi-victory lap on the warning track with his arms full of wild-card T-shirts and hats. He threw the souvenirs into the stands for the fans.

"Look at this crowd," said Garciaparra. "This is great. A bunch of guys here have been talking about how much they love these fans, how great it is that they're supporting us. And we love them back. Today we'll celebrate, we'll enjoy ourselves, and tomorrow it's back to work because there's still a lot left that we want to accomplish."

When asked if securing a playoff berth at home made the moment more special, Garciaparra said, "I think what made it so sweet was that we could go out there and share it with the fans. That was really important. That was important to all of us. It really was. They've been tremendous all year. What can you say about them? You can't say enough about them. I think that's why you saw a bunch of guys staying out there and walking around and saluting them. It says a lot."

Although last night's celebration was all about the team, the fans, and camaraderie, Garciaparra had to be pleased with his performance in the victory. In the second inning, he belted a three-run home run to left on a 3-and-2 count, which was a particularly encouraging sign. Garciaparra is slowly emerging from a prolonged slump. Another encouraging sign, manager Grady Little moved Garciaparra back to his customary No. 3 spot in the lineup.

Even when Garciaparra doesn't improve his average (now at .302), he still helps the team. A groundball out in the first scored Johnny Damon. The shortstop added the blast in the second, increasing his RBIs to 104 and home runs to 27. The most impressive number posted by Garciaparra this season may be 157 -- the number of games he has played, tops on the club.

Last night was not a time to talk about individual accomplishments.

"We've won, we've lost all as a team this year," said Garciaparra. "We're in the postseason not because of one person, not because of two people. It's because of every single guy. That says a lot. Now, it's about enjoying it. That's what the playoffs are for, enjoying yourself. That's what's great about this team. They do enjoy it."

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