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RED SOX 8, ORIOLES 0

Baltimore chop

Wells, Red Sox cut the Orioles' bats down to size

BALTIMORE -- Signs of David Wells had abounded -- the heavy metal and the expletives, the humor and the honesty -- but not until last night did the real David Wells, the guy the Red Sox thought they signed, show up.

The moment occurred in the dugout following a somewhat labor-intensive sixth inning. The skipper wanted to check on Wells, and the 41-year-old wasn't having it. Wells told Terry Francona he was just fine.

"He said, `You sure?' " Wells said later. "I just popped off. I said, `Just sit down and let an old warhorse do his job and don't say a thing.' He just laughed at me. You've got to get cocky once in a while."

Last night, in an 8-0 Sox blowout, Wells earned that right. In his fourth appearance as a Red Sox, he was nothing short of transcendent against a Baltimore team that began the night with a .295 average, the best in baseball. Wells went eight innings and allowed just four base runners (three hits and a walk), extending his scoreless streak to 15 innings.

The win, staged before 36,478 (many of them Red Sox fans), evened Wells's record at 2-2 and lowered his ERA, which was 8.44 after two starts, to 3.51. The Sox improved to 9-6, moving into a tie with Baltimore atop the American League East.

"He just shut down that lineup, one of the best offenses in the game," said Sox ace Curt Schilling. "That's just a fun one to watch as a pitcher. I love to sit back and watch."

Wells faced the minimum batters in the first, second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth innings. He gave up a second-inning single to Sammy Sosa (nullified by an inning-ending double play), a two-out Javy Lopez single in the fifth, and a single to Luis Matos and a walk to Brian Roberts in the sixth.

Matos and Roberts reached with one out and Wells bore down. He struck out Melvin Mora swinging on a 91 mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner, then induced a ground out by Miguel Tejada, who knocked in a major league-leading 150 runs last season.

Wells's fifth and final strikeout was Sosa in the seventh, on an elevated fastball with plenty of giddy and plenty of up.

Wells said he could have gone nine innings, and Francona initially was willing to let him.

"I appreciated that," said Wells, who complained in Toronto after being lifted in the middle of the seventh by bench coach Brad Mills, then the acting manager.

But, when the Sox sent six men to the plate in the ninth, an inning after sending seven to the plate, the down time between innings was a bit too much.

"My heart was willing to send him out in the ninth," Francona said, "but my head won out."

By that time, the Sox' offense, thanks to some timely hitting and seven walks, had hung eight runs on the board. The Sox had just two base runners through four innings, then 15 between the fifth and ninth, when they scored all of their runs.

Baltimore starter Bruce Chen, the former Boston pitcher with his eighth major league team since 1998, was excellent early. The only base runners he allowed through four innings were two Manny Ramirez walks (on nine total pitches) before he came apart.

Chen broke the scoreless tie by balking in Jason Varitek with two outs in the fifth and the bases loaded. Chen escaped the inning with just one run when Edgar Renteria grounded out. But, thanks to at-bats such as Bill Mueller's (nine pitches), the Baltimore lefthander needed 32 pitches to close out the inning.

In the sixth, Ramirez nearly cranked his sixth homer in his last 12 at-bats. The ball hit halfway up the center-field wall, and Ramirez, whose nagging left quad muscle forced him to leave Tuesday's game, rolled into second with a stand-up double.

Two batters later, Chen hit Kevin Millar in the side. Two pitches later, Varitek unloaded on a changeup up and away that didn't come down until it had cleared the 410-foot sign in left-center. That three-run homer, Varitek's fourth of the season, upped the lead to 4-0.

"Don't be surprised," said David Ortiz, "if he comes out and hits 30 this year."

In the seventh, with Johnny Damon on second with a double, Ramirez lined a single into left-center, upping the lead to 5-0. He's now hit five home runs and knocked in 13 runs in his last five games.

Mueller plated the sixth run with a double off the left-center-field wall in the eighth. Mark Bellhorn followed with an RBI single to make it 7-0, and Mueller scored on a Damon ground out for the 8-0 finale.

Though the Sox' offense continues to roll -- they've outscored opponents, 86-62, this season -- the most promising development was Wells. The lefthander was setting off alarms in his initial outings at New York and Toronto -- 10 2/3 innings, 19 hits, 10 earned runs. But, after blanking the Devil Rays for seven innings last Friday, his ERA dropped to 5.09.

Tejada supplied the only real moment of trepidation in the sixth with two men on and the Sox ahead, 4-0. He hit a ball down the right-field line, where the wall measures 318 feet. The ball hung in the air before fading just right of the foul pole. Tejada, caught on camera, blinked his eyes emphatically, snapped his head back, and clearly said, "Oh."

But that ball was yet another maddening sight for the Orioles. Perhaps at no point did they know Wells had them more than when he deftly fielded Roberts's bunt attempt to lead off the fourth and nailed him at first.

"Quick as a cat, man," Wells said. "The old dog can still field his position."

Added Wells: "I just felt good. How many nights am I going to feel like that? I don't know. I just cherish it."

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