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With everything in order, it may be just the start they needed

Page 2 of 2 -- There was nothing not to like from a Red Sox viewpoint. It all began with the leadoff man being 5 for 5 by the sixth inning. "I don't know if it's good for me to know what I'm doing well," said Johnny Damon, who boosted his average to .307 with an on-base percentage that is now hovering around .400. "I have no idea. I'm just going up with a positive attitude. The whole team needs to go up that way."

Another key performer was Kevin Millar, who had three hits, including a pair of authoritative doubles. Speaking of Millar's productive night, Francona said, "That's huge. If he hits like he can, I should say, when he hits like he can, that's going to be the biggest spark for us."

The undeniable fact of the matter is that the Red Sox have blown their chance to win the division (OK, yes, the Yankees lost and the lead is down to seven) and that's that. They will undoubtedly say they have conceded nothing, that there's a lot of baseball to play and blah, blah, blah. We will forgive them for this rhetoric because they're just being true to an athletic code.

There remains the matter of the wild card, and that is what they are playing for. And in order to become the wild-card winner they will have to play many more games like this. No, not 11-0 games in which absolutely everything goes their way, but games in which they, as all good baseball men would say (even if they have a PhD in English), hit good, pitch good, catch the ball good, and even run the bases good.

"We just need to focus on the nine innings in front of us," said Schilling. "Which is not always easy to do around here."

Oh, you mean just because this is a town where every win is magnified and, far worse, every loss is a catastrophe? Is that what you mean, Curt?

But, yes, absolutely, this is a very important homestand. The Red Sox need to establish who they are between now and the All-Star break in these six games with Oakland and Texas.

Francona said it himself in his pregame session with the press: "I'm tired of saying, `We've got to do this.' We need to just do it."

And then they went out and did it, backing up Wakefield's best performance of the season with 17 hits (on a night when AL RBI leader David Ortiz was 0 for 6 while stranding 4,206 runners) and flawless defense. This was about as ridiculously one-sided as a game can get. When you score 11 and leave 14 (six times leaving two men on), you've got a lot of base runners. It is an indication of what the team can be.

"I look at it from a pitcher's perspective," Schilling said. "You've got the American League batting champion batting ninth. You've got guys who know how to work the count up and down the order. There are no breaks. I can tell you I would not want to face this lineup."

The season is half over. They have messed up the first half. But a half is a half. They have 81 games remaining in which to play the kind of baseball they were supposed to play.

"We're home," said Francona. "We're where we want to be. We've got five games left until the All-Star break, so let's see if we can do something."

Last night was a start. Let's leave it at that.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com. 

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