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RED SOX 12, YANKEES 5

Recovery mode

Seven-run eighth helps Sox bounce back, beat Yankees

No frothy champagne showers. No celebratory sprints to the Baseball Tavern. No grateful hugs from principal owner John W. Henry.

On the first anniversary of their raucous celebration over clinching their first wild card in the post-Yawkey era, the Red Sox last night settled for something simpler but sweet nonetheless: a stirring, 12-5 victory over the Yankees before an ecstatic 34,856 who spilled out of Fenway Park afterward as if the party had just begun.

Keep the champagne on ice. But Sox fans could raise a cup of cheer to the dynamos at the top of Sox order, Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn, who helped break a tense, 5-5 standoff with one out in the bottom of the eighth by reaching on a single and walk, respectively. They could toast Manny Ramirez, who doubled home the decisive run. And, if they saved a sip or two, they could hail Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli, who provided plenty of insurance with a pair of two-run doubles, before Orlando Cabrera (sacrifice fly) and Bill Mueller (RBI single) capped the seven-run, game-breaking blitz.

Oh, Sox fans also could tip their hats to Keith Foulke, who rebounded from three straight shaky outings to retire the final four Yankees in order.

Too bad manager Terry Francona was relegated to watching on television. The night after Francona inspired some public wrath with his handling of Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning of a dispiriting 6-4 loss to the Yankees, he went down fighting over a disputed call in the sixth inning, ejected for the third time this season.

"It was a great win," said Francona, who usually is loath to toss around superlatives. "Every one we get from here on is great, especially with [the Yankees]."

The victory guaranteed the Sox they would not risk suffering the indignity of watching the Yankees celebrate on the Fenway lawn today after clinching their seventh straight division title. The magic number for the Yankees, which would have dropped to two with a Sox loss, remained at four.

"That wouldn't be too good," Damon said of a Yankee party on Yawkey Way. "They'll get their chance to celebrate somewhere. We just need to keep inching closer and closer to clinching a playoff berth and we'll be happy."

The Sox, who are closing in on clinching the wild card, also gained a small measure of consolation by winning their first season series over the Yankees since 1999 as they improved to 10-8 before today's finale. The Sox won six of the first seven before struggling down the stretch against their archrival.

"It's a big win for the team," Foulke said. "We really haven't been playing that well in the last week. I just think the pitching, myself included, has been a little off. A win like this is one of those things that gets the team excited. It's a confidence booster and gets us going in the right direction again."

The big guns for the Sox were Mirabelli, who also smacked a two-run homer to match his career high with four RBIs, and Varitek, whose pinch double in the eighth helped put the game out of reach. The Sox were particularly happy for Varitek, who was hitting .127 (7 for 55) this year against the Yankees and was batting .214 (15 for 70) in September.

But Varitek took it in stride.

"It's not like I've gone all year without a hit, so I'm not real panicked," he said. "I was just trying to make sure I tried to get a ball into the outfield, at least get another run across."

Mirabelli had nothing to worry about since he has been one of the most productive bench players in the league this year.

"I've been swinging the bat well and I was confident going into the game that I was going to get some hits," he said.

Tim Wakefield, trying to recover from a four-start nightmare in which he went 0-3 with a 9.45 ERA, also boosted his confidence as he kept the Sox in contention until he departed amid a 5-5 deadlock with one out and a runner on first in the seventh inning. Curtis Leskanic picked up the knuckleballer by getting Derek Jeter to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

Thanks in part perhaps to some wise counsel in recent days from retired knuckleballer Charlie Hough, Wakefield survived longer than he had in his previous four starts, allowing five runs (three earned) on five hits, a pair of walks, and a hit batsman over 6 1/3 innings.

Wakefield, who remained winless since Aug. 29, was solid enough to match Yankees starter Javier Vazquez, who surrendered five runs on seven hits, including the two-run shot by Mirabelli, over 4 2/3 innings. Vazquez also allowed RBI singles to David Ortiz and Trot Nixon, and a sac fly to Cabrera, in addition to walking two batters and hitting one. Kevin Millar was responsible for the two unearned runs Wakefield surrendered. When Alex Rodriguez lifted a pop behind first base leading off the fourth, Millar backpedaled but lost track of the ball, letting it drop for an error. Wakefield complicated matters by issuing a one-out walk to Matsui, and Jorge Posada made him pay with a Wall-scraping double.

"That's as smooth as you can get at first base," Millar joked. "That's where the label comes from. Defensively, I'm a specialist over there on popups the last two nights."

Seriously, Millar said. "[Wakefield] should have been out of that inning. I felt terrible."

But not for long. Not after the seven-run eighth.

"We exploded, finally," Millar said. "The was a big win, a big jump-start for the team."

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