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Damon disappointed his streak hit an end

It was never a burden on Johnny Damon. In fact, his 29-game hitting streak was pretty enjoyable.

He was looking ahead, feeling if he could get to 30, he could build some momentum and perhaps really go deep. Not 56 games deep, but pretty deep.

''I'm definitely disappointed," said Damon after going 0 for 5 in last night's 3-1 loss to the Devil Rays. ''[Scott] Kazmir shut most of us down. He had good stuff. A couple of pitches he threw could have extended the streak. I thought I had a few good swings. But for me I just wanted our team to start winning. Our team just isn't swinging the bats like we're capable of right now. I just wish I could have got on base. I just feel if I could have gotten past today I could have taken it further.

''I'm amazed that I got it up to 29 given how I've been swinging the bat. Hopefully I can start a new one now and really start hitting well."

The fourth-longest hitting streak in Sox history included a .348 average with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 13 RBIs, and 26 runs scored. Damon is hitting .338 on the season.

''I've been trying to work hard every day on getting on base and trying to start something at the top of the order," he said.

If anyone could have handled the limelight and national media focus of a lengthy hitting streak, it was Damon. Being one of the most media-friendly players in baseball, the feeling among teammates was that Damon could have endured the pressure.

''I wouldn't be surprised now that it's stopped that he throws multiple-hit games up there," said manager Terry Francona. ''He understands how to play the game and that's important for us. He understands his job and his responsibility of getting on base. I wouldn't be shocked if he gets real hot right now."

Second guessing

With Mark Bellhorn placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left thumb, general manager Theo Epstein said the organization is trying to protect itself at a position that is very much in flux. While the team recalled Kevin Youkilis from Pawtucket, light-hitting Alex Cora got the start at second base last night.

Dustin Pedroia would have been a potential call-up, but he's still working his way back from a wrist injury at Pawtucket. Top infield prospect Hanley Ramirez has only recently begun playing second at Double A Portland.

Francona also had a brief meeting with Bill Mueller to discuss using the third baseman at second when needed, contrary to a previous conversation between the two that determined Mueller would play third exclusively given his past knee problems and concerns the player might reinjure himself with runners barreling into second.

Bellhorn's injured thumb made it difficult for him to grip the bat, which gave the team no choice but to place him on the disabled list. If Mueller can play some second base, that would enable Francona to use Youkilis at third, although Francona didn't rule out using Youkilis at second.

''I don't want to say it's not an option," Francona said. ''I don't know if it's our best option. He's showing a real willingness and ability to adapt. At the same time when the ball is hit, you don't want someone in your middle infield not knowing where to go."

Epstein said while he's trying to ensure the team is covered on an emergency basis, he doesn't feel the time is right to promote either Pedroia or Ramirez.

Epstein said of Pedroia, ''He got hit on the wrist by a pitch pretty badly a couple of weeks ago and he's back and playing through it, but he's a little bit less than 100 percent. I don't think it's fair to a kid like that to bring him [up] when he can't play 100 percent. He's less than 13 months out of college. We're excited about his future. We don't think he's too far away."

Epstein said that Ramirez, a shortstop by trade, will continue to play second and get used to turning the double play.

''He's had two games under his belt over there and we'll see how he adapts to the position. And we're very excited about Hanley's future as well. At the same time we're trying to balance his long-term development with the short-term needs of the team."

Wells still waiting

David Wells would like a face-to-face hearing with Major League Baseball for his appeal of a six-game suspension for allegedly brushing umpire Chris Guccione July 2. Guccione, the second base umpire, had ejected Wells after the lefthander had some harsh words for plate umpire Larry Poncino.

Wells's agent, Greg Clifton, said last night that while most appeal hearings are via conference call he will ask for a face-to-face because ''David really wants a forum to be able to explain his side of the story. He's really hot about this."

It could be a costly suspension for Wells, who has already spent time on the disabled list with a foot injury. Wells has an incentive-laden contract that calls for bonuses of $200,000 for starts 11-20 and $300,000 for starts 21-30. Wells is scheduled to make his 17th start tomorrow against Tampa Bay.

Raising the stakes

Sox owner John W. Henry told Bloomberg news service yesterday that ''there is a very good probability that we will increase payroll before the trading deadline." The Sox already have the league's second-highest payroll for 2005 at approximately $123.5 million. Henry is said to be very fond of Marlins righthander A.J. Burnett from his days as Florida's owner. Burnett, who is fairly cheap at $3.65 million but is in the final year of his contract, is reportedly being pursued by the Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, and Padres, and ''something could happen soon," according to a major league source . . . Francona on Curt Schilling's ninth-inning appearance: ''I thought it was by far the best he'd been. He threw some real good splits. He pounded the strike zone. I thought he was very, very good." . . Wade Miller feels he getting ''real close" to being a top starter after allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings. ''The last few starts have been just an inning away from having a good start," he said. ''I feel it's going to come." . . . While Dave Wallace was making a mound visit in the sixth, left fielder Manny Ramirez made a quick visit inside the Monster. It nearly wasn't quick enough. Ramirez emerged from the wall just as Miller was going into his stretch with the bases loaded. ''There might be a beautiful woman in there," Damon said. ''If that's the case, I'll be going over there myself." . . . Emily Gardner of the Berklee College of Music performed a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

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