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RED SOX 9, DEVIL RAYS 4

In finale, Sox make it quick

There was a flight to Chicago to catch yesterday afternoon, but surely that could wait for a few Red Sox to pause on their way out of the clubhouse for a photo with a visitor named Christie Brinkley.

''Best place to play," noted Johnny Damon, who looked on as a grinning Kevin Millar posed with the model.

Told he couldn't possibly leave a place like this come the offseason, Damon said it wasn't inconceivable that his next destination could be beyond his control.

''There's three untouchables," Damon said. ''Curt Schilling. Jason Varitek. David Ortiz. If the right deal came along, they'd trade me."

That widespread uneasiness, even in the wake of yesterday's 9-4 defeat of a Tampa Bay team that staged a woeful performance -- pitcher Mark Hendrickson became the first starter in the Devil Rays' 1,227-game history not to record an out, and Alex Gonzalez made three errors -- is the sentiment that has engulfed the Red Sox.

The team left yesterday for a week away -- four games beginning tonight on Chicago's South Side against the best team in baseball, followed by three at Tampa -- and with the trading deadline 10 days away, the Red Sox are a changing team. Witness: In the seventh inning yesterday a scan of the field showed Adam Stern in center, Adam Hyzdu in right, Alex Cora at shortstop, and Tony Graffanino at second base.

And so, as general manager Theo Epstein continues to pass his days on his BlackBerry, and individual Red Sox bear the emotional brunt of trade rumors (Bronson Arroyo keeps hearing he's going to Florida in a deal for A.J. Burnett), the Sox must play on.

Yesterday, though, that was as simple a task as it can be at the big-league level, largely thanks to Hendrickson. A former NBA player, the 6-foot-9-inch Hendrickson faced only six batters and left the game looking just as benumbed as he did in a memorable Life magazine photo in which Hendrickson was caught watching in helpless awe as Michael Jordan dunked.

Hendrickson's line: 6 batters, 4 hits, 6 runs (5 earned), 2 walks. He threw just 30 pitches, 14 for strikes. What wasn't working for him?

''He wasn't getting people out," manager Lou Piniella responded. ''You don't get people out, nothing works. I'm serious. You looked at me sort of funny. I mean, I'm simplifying it, but it's true, isn't it?"

Hendrickson's inning went like this: Damon singled to shortstop on pitch No. 5. Edgar Renteria walked on pitch No. 10. Ortiz singled to center, scoring Damon, on pitch No. 13. Manny Ramirez doubled to right, scoring Renteria, on pitch No. 20. Millar walked on pitch No. 28, loading the bases. Doug Mirabelli (2 for 17 in July before yesterday) doubled off the Wall on pitch No. 30, plating two more. And that was it for the big man.

''You're the loneliest man in the world when that happens to you," said Sox starter David Wells, who is feeling well-liked these days, what with the team-best 7.1 runs of support the Sox are giving him. ''You're throwing every pitch you have and they're just waffling you."

Dewon Brazelton, who still has not served his five-game suspension for giving Trot Nixon a facewash April 24, relieved Hendrickson and pitched admirably: 5 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (2 earned). But that was immaterial, given Wells's outing.

The burly lefthander allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings, improving to 8-5 while lowering his ERA to 4.59. The Sox have won nine of his last 10 starts, during which he's 6-1 with a 3.36 ERA. Ignore Wells's two bad outings -- when he injured himself April 25 vs. Baltimore, and when he came back prematurely May 18 at Oakland -- and he'd be 8-3 this year with a 3.64 ERA.

''He's the same old vintage Wells," Nixon said. ''Curveball, cutter, throws strikes."

Wells walked only one, giving him just 12 this season. Following that one walk -- to lead off the sixth -- he looked quite peeved.

''If we got upset every time we gave up a base on balls," Piniella said, ''we'd be upset a lot of times."

Wells's only mistake, in his mind, was a pitch he threw to Aubrey Huff with one out in the seventh that Huff sent a dozen or so rows into the box seats in right where the wall curves. Wells appeared to tip his cap toward the ball as it left the yard.

''You have to," Wells said. ''It was a bomb."

Damon hit his own bomb, to right, off Brazelton leading off the fourth, his first homer since July 1 off Ted Lilly, a span of 66 at-bats, to make it 8-1. It would become 9-1 before Huff homered in the seventh and Eduardo Perez launched a two-run shot in the ninth of John Halama.

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