ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe they should be 10 or 12 games in front in the American League East, and maybe they never should have allowed the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays to stay afloat. But they did, and when the season reached one of its lows Monday night when Keith Foulke let a 5-4 lead slip away in the ninth inning in a devastating loss, Sox players sensed tough times were ahead -- yet they decided this wasn't going to be a sob story.
''I had four guys from the bullpen come in to me before the game to tell me they were ready to go," said Boston manager Terry Francona, who will send Foulke home this morning for MRIs on his balky knees.
It was a sign of the togetherness that last season led the team to a world championship.
Another was Tim Wakefield giving the Sox eight strong innings last night in his 300th career start, holding down a potent Texas attack in a 7-4 win. It was a game in which Johnny Damon, one of the toughest players in baseball, made a running, rolling catch of a Gary Matthews Jr. dropping liner in the ninth. Although it appeared Damon reinjured his right shoulder, he flexed it a few times and continued to play.
And don't forget the offense, which produced a grand slam by Manny Ramirez, a two-run homer by David Ortiz, and a solo shot by Bill Mueller. Mike Timlin was called upon to close, and he did it in six-pitch efficiency in a 1-2-3 ninth.
''It's amazing to me how we had another devastating loss [Monday] and we came back to take care of business [last night]," said Damon, who continued his 21-game hitting streak with a single in the first inning. ''We have a 3 1/2-game lead and we still haven't played that great."
Of his catch, Damon said, ''I popped some body parts, but I was able to get them back in the right spots after the game. I had a good jump on the ball, but I didn't know how far I needed to sprint for it. I'm just happy I came up with it."
With the bullpen in shambles and ace Curt Schilling likely not returning until after the All-Star break, the emphasis shifted back to the offense.
Certainly feeling the moment, the dynamic 1-2 punch of Ramirez (his 22d homer) and Ortiz (20th) accounted for six of the seven Sox runs over the first three innings.
''We're struggling a little bit, so to come in and score runs early, it was good to hit the ball like that," said Ortiz.
The Sox were smoking early against 6-foot-10-inch Texas starter Chris Young but stalled when lefthander Ron Mahay came on in the third for a 3 2/3-inning stint. He struck out five and allowed only one hit. In fact, the Sox didn't score after the third inning.
Wakefield was aware of the bullpen situation and he hung in as long as he could. He and Francona even discussed Wakefield coming out for the ninth, but after throwing 115 pitches, the knuckleballer, who improved to 8-6 and to 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA in his last five starts, felt the game was in good hands with Timlin.
''I got a lot of help offensively with Manny's grand slam and David's homer," Wakefield said. ''That makes your job a lot easier. I battled for eight innings and for our team to get away with a win against a very good lineup, knowing the situation with our bullpen, was big for our team."
Wakefield started strong but allowed a pair of runs in the fifth and sixth innings to let the Rangers creep back into the game. He allowed a two-run homer to Matthews in the fifth and Kevin Mench's RBI double and Laynce Nix's sacrifice fly in the sixth. But those were all the runs the Rangers could muster.
Timlin, who allowed a run in Monday's loss, got Rod Barajas to ground to third, Matthews to line to center, and David Dellucci to strike out swinging.
Francona would not commit to Timlin as the full-time closer in Foulke's absence. The manager indicated he discussed the situation with Timlin and told him he would be used in different situations, including his usual setup role.
''It was just another inning," Timlin said. ''I'm proud of what Wake did out there. He's the story of this game."
Asked about his possible closer role, he said, ''I want Foulkie to be healthy. If they ask me to pitch the ninth, I'll pitch the ninth. I'll pitch whenever I need to pitch to get this team a win."
Ortiz said, ''maybe," when asked whether he and Ramirez might be the best 1-2 punch in baseball.
''We're a good combination, but there are a lot of good combinations around baseball," Ortiz said. ''Manny does a good job. He's a great hitter."
Ramirez, who kidded after the game that, ''I'm washed up," came up in the third after Damon reached on an outfield error, Edgar Renteria singled, and Ortiz walked. He sent a ball over the right-center wall near the 377-foot sign.
''Manny has a lot of power that way," Ortiz said. ''It's not surprising." The grand slam was his 20th, the second-most in major league history, trailing only Lou Gehrig's 23.
It seemed evident the Sox aren't ready to take just give in to their recent maladies.
''We know what's going on here," Damon said. ''We've got some problems in the bullpen and injuries and we know we've got some new people here. We have a lot of faith in our team, and we know if we need something our front office is going to go out and get some people to fill some of our needs. We just have to continue to play hard, and when we click on all cylinders, we're going to be a tough team to beat."