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RED SOX 7, REDS 0

Gem-quality

Wells and two relievers combine on 1-hit beauty

The temperature was 37 degrees cooler (54) than the night before. The wind was swirling, but mostly blowing in.

Fenway Park, in the words of Terry Francona, ''played big."

That perfectly suited David Wells, who came up big, combining with Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke on a one-hit 7-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds last night.

In the big picture, the win extended a streak of very good starting pitching to three games. That coincides with general manager Theo Epstein blasting the team after Saturday's loss to the Cubs, when he threatened changes if things didn't turn around.

Whether it's the power of Theo or simply coincidence, Sox starters have a 1.64 ERA in those three games. In 22 innings, they've allowed only 11 hits, 4 earned runs, and 3 walks, with 17 strikeouts. That includes starts by Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement, and Wells, who last night extended his scoreless-innings streak to 17, allowing one hit, two walks, a hit batter, and not much of anything else over the seven he worked.

He carried a no-hitter into the sixth, but that was broken up by Ryan Freel's two-out line single to right-center on an 0-and-2 pitch.

''I knew it was going on," Wells said. ''In the dugout, Clement wouldn't move. Bronson [Arroyo] wouldn't move. Skid [trainer Jim Rowe] wouldn't move.

''You just try and stay within the same routine when you've got a no-hitter going. I just try to make a pitch. I just overthrew that one pitch. I got it up and the ball is going to get hit."

Freel said he was simply protecting the outside part of the plate on 0-and-2. After all, plate umpire Terry Craft had a generous strike zone.

''I just dove in," Freel said. ''I actually kind of cheated on that pitch. I was able to get good wood on it and get a knock. I wasn't thinking I was breaking up a no-hitter. It's hard enough to hit as it is."

Wells, who is now 15-6 with a 2.58 ERA in interleague play, was coming off eight innings of four-hit ball against St. Louis last Wednesday, when a remarkable 74 of his 94 pitches went for strikes. And last night was a money game in more ways than one; it earned Wells the first $200,000 bonus he gets for starts 11-20. He gets $300,000 for starts 21-30.

Not bad for a guy who sprained his right foot April 25, went on the disabled list, and came back May 18 to get shellacked by the A's in a 13-6 loss in which he couldn't get out of the second inning.

How about this number? Since changing his uniform from 3 to 16 just before his May 29 start against the Yankees, he's won three of four starts.

Wells received more than enough offensive support, as the Sox scored three times in the second inning, on Bill Mueller's bases-loaded single and Johnny Damon's RBI double. They added a pair of runs in the sixth on RBI singles by Kevin Millar and Mueller. And they finished with two in the seventh, on Manny Ramírez's 14th home run and John Olerud's run-producing double.

''You have to give credit to all the guys who got on base before me," said Mueller. ''You definitely want to produce with runners in scoring position, and we were able to get it done. We knew this team was going to hit."

Ramírez blasted his home run into the Monster Seats in left-center, through the wind. Apparently, some recent drills he has done with hitting coach Ron Jackson have helped keep his shoulder down and given him some power. He has homered in each of the last three games, over a span of 10-at-bats

''All he has to do is be Manny," said Jason Varitek. ''Just be the best righthanded hitter in the game."

Both Francona and Varitek cited strong starting pitching as a reason why the offense is able to relax and play loosely.

''When you get good pitching, you don't have to come from behind," Francona said. ''We believe in our ball club offensively, but when you're down a bunch, it makes it difficult. Tonight, David's putting up zeroes. We score first and we add on. All of a sudden it's a really good night for us."

Wells did have his walkless streak broken at 31 2/3 innings when he walked Wily Mo Peña (who had struck out five consecutive times) in the seventh. That was a hint that Wells was tiring, as his pitch count exceeded 100 for only the second time this season. He went 3-and-2 to the next batter, Adam Dunn, and walked him, too.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace trotted out, but Wells stayed in and got Felipe López to fly out on the next pitch, his 110th and last.

Ironically, the Red Sox and Reds entered the game as the only two teams in the major leagues that had not been shut out this season. Boston's streak is alive at 84 games, while Cincinnati's ended at 63.

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