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Red Sox 8, Twins 2

Domestand

Arroyo is dazzling again as Red Sox pound Minnesota

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / July 31, 2004

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MINNEAPOLIS -- While anxiety reigned in at least one corner of the Red Sox clubhouse last night as Derek Lowe endured the final hours before today's 4 p.m. trading deadline, the air was thick with another concern: fielding a team as unfettered as possible by injuries and suspensions.

The Sox had no choice but to play the surging Twins without Nomar Garciaparra, who remains dogged by tendinitis in his right Achilles'. And soon they will face the unnerving prospect of losing David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Gabe Kapler, and Trot Nixon (if he returns from the disabled list) to a series of staggered suspensions, barring an unlikely act of mercy from Major League Baseball.

But as they prepared to enter an August run to position themselves for a playoff berth, the last thing the Sox could afford was suffering another avoidable loss of crucial personnel.

"We can't have guys that are vital to this team with an opportunity to win a World Series not on the field," Kapler said. "We just can't have that."

All they needed to do was focus on the principles of winning baseball. And so they did, as Bronson Arroyo spun another gem on the road and the offense overcame a couple of shortcomings in the clutch to seize the opener of a weekend showdown against the Twins, 8-2, before 34,263 at the Metrodome. (The Sox also seemed poised to keep Lowe since a number of pitchers they considered moving him for were traded elsewhere and they need him to start tonight against the Twins.)

The victory followed a deflating loss in Baltimore and came at the expense of the league's hottest team. The Twins had won nine of their last 10 and hold a four-game lead in the AL Central.

"It's not a cheapie lineup, it's a good, solid team," said Jason Varitek, who capped the offense with a solo homer in the ninth inning. "We needed that, especially after we lost our last one."

Arroyo, who boasts the league's second-best road ERA (2.79), stayed on a roll away from the Hub as he rationed the Twins two runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings. He walked none and struck out eight as he improved to 4-7 with a 4.08 ERA overall. As a measure of his masterful command, he fired 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

"Bronson was amazing," said Kapler, who was pretty dandy himself. "He set an incredible tempo and kept a consistent pace throughout the game that kept the defense on its toes and gave us a chance to get back in the dugout and put decent at-bats together."

Kapler picked up a dazzling assist by making like Roberto Clemente in the seventh and firing a throw from deep right field to third base to gun down Justin Morneau trying to stretch a leadoff double. Kapler also keyed the Sox offense as he banged out hits in his first three at-bats and knocked in three runs.

"He was unbelievable," Arroyo said. "He's getting a chance to play more now, and ever since he has gotten some more at-bats under his belt, he looks a lot more comfortable at the plate. And he's really playing great."

While Kapler acknowledged that a number of teammates "may or may not have hurt feelings" amid speculation about being traded before today's deadline ("It's only natural," he said), he remained unfazed that the team may be seeking another outfielder to help in Nixon's absence.

"It's so insignificant to me, especially in my preparation," Kapler said. "I'm not going to say I don't know little things that leak here or there and that they're looking for X player or Y player, but it's not even on my radar. It really isn't."

Another Sox player who harbors no concern about his standing, former Twin Ortiz, continued to lay waste to the baseball landscape as he went 3 for 5 and doubled in two runs to reach 93 RBIs, one shy of the league lead.

The Sox pen also pitched in as Alan Embree rescued Arroyo by shutting down the Twins with runners at first and second in the eighth before Keith Foulke finished things off in the ninth.

Minnesota's starters had gone 7-0 with a 2.91 ERA as the Twins had won 10 of the previous 12 games. But the Sox snapped the streak as they loaded the bases in four of the first five innings, scoring seven times off starter Kyle Lohse. The wonder was that the Sox didn't score more since they amassed 11 hits and four walks off Lohse and finished with 16 hits.

They stranded Johnny Damon after he doubled leading off the first and went scoreless after they loaded the bases in the third.

"Early on, you see it come and go, and you go, `Uh-oh, we let them off the hook a little bit,' " manager Terry Francona said. "But we kept plugging away."

The Sox eased Francona's concerns by scoring twice in the second when Kapler singled with the bases loaded and Ricky Gutierrez, filling in for Garciaparra, bounced into the first of his two double plays. Ortiz delivered two more runs in the fourth when he lofted an opposite-field fly just inside the left-field line. And Kapler capitalized again with the bases loaded in the fifth with a two-run single.

It was all good for Arroyo, who felt "pretty bad" for the first three innings pitching with flu symptoms.

"When you've got a 7-0 lead," he said, "it allows you to go out and throw strikes and not worry about giving up a hit here or there."

Arroyo toyed with the Twins, allowing only one run on five hits through seven innings before he tired in the eighth.

"He was awesome," Varitek said. "He's constantly getting better, and I think he's got another notch that's going to make him even a little better."

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