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RED SOX 5, ROYALS 2

Hang time

It gets dicey in ninth, but Sox survive

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you called it a night after eight innings last night, turning off the TV with your Red Sox ahead, 5-0, against a Royals team that was outscored, 158-71, in its last 22 games, 20 of them losses, you awoke this morning to find that Kansas City plated two in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate. This, on Day 1 of Mike Timlin working closing time. And perhaps you panicked a bit.

''If they were sitting up watching the game," Timlin said, ''they know better."

The reason? Timlin's inning, which was not a save situation, went like this: fly out, single, fly out, walk, popup to the pitcher. However, the inning didn't end there because Timlin couldn't snag the John Buck popup that went all of 30 feet.

''As a pitcher," Timlin said, ''that's one of the hardest things to do, to react to a full swing and have a changeup come at you."

Timlin took a step back, then charged and dived, getting a glove on the ball but not squeezing it.

''I went 6 or 7 inches into the ground," he said. ''I had to replace my divot. Seriously."

The next hitter, Donnie Murphy, deposited a two-run single over first baseman John Olerud before Timlin induced former PawSox outfielder Chip Ambres to ground out to end the game. And so it ended 5-2, the first game of this in-between time, as the Sox move Curt Schilling into the rotation and Keith Foulke continues to progress toward a return.

The Sox, after a 1-3 beginning to this season-long 10-game trip, improved to 4-4. When it was noted to Terry Francona that the Kansas City ninth got a little exciting, the manager said, ''Yeah, I was a little -- I don't want to say disappointed . . ."

He wasn't there to criticize Timlin. The disappointment?

''Timlin's athleticism," Francona said, joking. ''That was a point of interest coming off the field. Mike felt he made pretty good pitch. They got a base hit to right that wasn't smoked. There isn't a point in the game where we sit there very relaxed."

The next week figures to provide interesting late-inning watching. The Sox pitching staff is down to 11 -- Trot Nixon was activated yesterday, Lenny DiNardo optioned to Pawtucket -- and David Wells will have his appeal heard here this afternoon. His six-game suspension, if upheld or reduced only slightly, could leave the team shorthanded.

Last night Wells proved his value to the team, yet again. On a staff with so much uncertainty, Wells continues to demonstrate that he knows how to pitch, even when he doesn't want to.

''There are days you don't want to go out there," he said. ''I didn't want to go out there."

The reason, for the third straight start, was his health. Today, by his count, will be Wells's 11th and final day on antibiotics. He's keeping food down, but his right ear feels clogged still.

''I still feel like I'm underwater," he said.

That's affecting his equilibrium a bit on the mound, not to mention his pregame Metallica-listening routine.

''I've got the bass," he said. ''No treble."

His relative lack of command -- he'd gone five consecutive starts, and 31 straight innings, without issuing a walk leading into last night -- was clear. The first batter of the second inning walked on four pitches.

Wells tied a season high with two walks, both on four pitches, and routinely fell behind, throwing first-pitch balls to nine of the 20 batters he faced. That elevated his pitch count to 91 after five innings, at which point he exited.

''I thought he looked a little fatigued to me," Francona said. ''He didn't fight me that much."

We remind you: The man didn't allow a run. He fanned five and allowed only five hits, four of them singles.

Wells's counterpart, Kansas City starter Zach Greinke (3-15, 6.04), retired seven straight Red Sox to begin the game before five of the next six hitters reached. With one out in the third Bill Mueller doubled to left, improving him to .480 (12 for 25) on the trip.

Tony Graffanino then flied to center for the second out, but Johnny Damon doubled (scoring Mueller), Edgar Renteria singled (plating Damon), and David Ortiz doubled to center (knocking in Renteria).

Renteria, though, never would have had the chance to score if not for Damon's deft slide. Renteria's single reached left fielder Terrence Long before Damon had rounded third, and third base coach Dale Sveum was waving, understandably, with two outs.

Long's throw brought catcher John Buck up the line and Damon cut to the inside, avoiding the tag and brushing home plate with his hand for the run, his 93d, tying Derek Jeter for the American League lead.

''Great slide," Francona said. ''Great, great slide."

Damon's take: ''The throw was off a bit, but I know there's no way in heck I can run into John Buck. I mean, the guy's big and strong, and he's able to put me in the hospital. I was able to go to one side of the plate where the ball was going and make that slide. It proved to be a spark for us."

Jason Varitek provided a run in the fourth with a solo homer, a 418-foot blast to right field, his 21st, five shy of Carlton Fisk's club record for a catcher.

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