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Ups and downs

Sox only earn split but Miller shines in return

Red Sox6-3
Mariners6-4

The lyric little bandbox played like Yankee Stadium -- like the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium -- for most of 18 innings here at Fenway yesterday afternoon and evening. Just ask David Ortiz, Doug Mirabelli, and Kevin Millar, all of whom put explosive swings on balls that probably would have left the park under more benign circumstances.

"It was a weird day," manager Terry Francona surmised. "The park played so big, except right there."

"Right there" was the top of the seventh inning, when Francona inserted Cla Meredith -- a 21-year-old kid with one inning of experience above Double A -- into a tie game. Meredith inherited a runner, walked two, then let go of a sinker away that Richie Sexson hit up into the rain and wind, which seemed to carry the ball, sustain it almost.

The ball, in the words of the closest eyewitness available, Trot Nixon, "took a hard right" and landed in the seats beyond Pesky's Pole for a game-deciding grand slam.

That turned a 2-2 game into a 6-2 game. The Sox went on to lose, 6-4, in the second game of yesterday's doubleheader after winning, 6-3, earlier in the day, all before a combined 69,519 at Fenway Park on a Candlestick Park kind of day -- temperatures in the mid 40s, blowing rain, and swirling, game-altering wind.

The main attraction, though, was Wade Miller, who made his first appearance in a Sox uniform and first in the majors since June 25 of last season. Miller wasn't a revelation because it's known what he can do when healthy. What he was was reminiscent of his former self.

He allowed just three hits and one walk over five innings, striking out six while allowing two runs, both earned. He reached 92 miles per hour to the first batter he faced, then 93 to the second, then 95 to the third. The third batter of the game, Adrian Beltre, took a curveball for Strike 1, fouled back a 94 m.p.h. fastball for Strike 2, then looked at a 95 m.p.h. heater for a called Strike Three.

"I didn't know he was going to throw that hard," said catcher Jason Varitek.

Miller had peaked at 92 miles per hour in his minor league rehab assignments and generally was around 88-89. Last night he touched 95 just that one time but routinely threw 91-93.

"I had an adrenaline rush in the first," Miller said of the 95 m.p.h. fastball. On the whole, he said of his velocity uptick, "I felt the ball was coming out better."

Miller threw no changeups yesterday and only five or six sliders all night. His fastball and curveball -- a sharp breaking, 12-to-6 pitch -- were so good that he didn't need too much more.

He actually struck out four of five Mariners at one point during his first trip through the lineup. Beltre went down looking to end the first. Sexson, leading off the second, flailed at a cutter away. Raul Ibanez then did the same. Jeremy Reed, two batters later, looked at a curveball to end the second inning.

Miller allowed all two of his runs in the third, when Wiki Gonzalez hit a leadoff double, Ichiro Suzuki singled, Randy Winn grounded out, scoring Gonzalez, and Beltre sat on a fastball for a double, scoring Ichiro.

"I thought there was a lot to be excited about," Francona said. "He was reaching back and throwing the ball. Fastball had good pop. He sustained it. Breaking ball had good depth, good rotation, tight spin. He was throwing free and easy. Boy, he was good."

Now, the Nation waits five days, crosses its fingers, and hopes he can do this again Saturday and 25 more times after that.

The Sox got a commendable appearance out of each of their starters. Jeremi Gonzalez, the winner in the afternoon game, needed 26 pitches in what he described as a "shaky" first inning before settling in. He allowed only four hits, three of them singles, walked two, and struck out six.

Pretty impressive for a guy who didn't have a team to sign with back in December and acknowledged yesterday, "At one point [this winter], I thought, 'This is it.' " This is it, as in, career done.

"But when I signed with Boston they said they'd give me an opportunity," Gonzalez said.

"He doesn't know anyone's name on the team," Kevin Millar said. "Just 'My Friend.' That's what he calls us."

At his current rate Gonzalez, the Venezuelan righthander, is making friends by the day. He and John Halama, in their three starts in place of Curt Schilling and David Wells, have combined to go 2-0 with a 4.02 ERA, 15 strikeouts, and just three walks.

"He works fast," Millar said of Gonzalez. "His tempo reminds you of a Jon Lieber. As a hitter he doesn't give you any time."

And, like Lieber, he's constantly in or around the strike zone. In two starts he's whiffed 10 and walked just three.

The Sox backed Gonzalez with early run support. Millar, who's amid the longest homerless stretch of his major league career, unloaded on a full-count fastball with the bases loaded in the first inning of the noon game, launching a double more than halfway up the Wall in left center. That emptied the bases and staked the Sox to a 3-0 lead.

"He may never hit a home run," Francona said. "That ball was crushed."

Millar was just one of the offensive stars yesterday. Johnny Damon went 4 for 9 with three singles, a double, and two runs scored in the two games, stretching his hitting streak to a league-best 14 games. David Ortiz went 4 for 7 with a home run, three doubles, and a walk. The homer, a solo shot, came in the nightcap.

The afternoon loss was Seattle's seventh straight, a demoralizing streak that ended with young Mr. Meredith on the mound.

"The reason we gave him the ball in that situation is we think he can handle it," Francona said. "He overthrew a little, missed his spot, and he paid the price. I don't think that will happen a lot."

Meredith -- who never had given up a home run in his minor league career (47{dbcomma} innings) -- sounded anxious to pitch again.

"I wasn't nervous by any means," he said. "I was ready to rock and roll. Maybe a little too much adrenaline."


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