It's like stepping into your favorite slippers after dinner. Or changing into your favorite pair of jeans after a hard day at the office.
Tim Wakefield likes pitching to Doug Mirabelli. It's just comfortable.
In their second game together since Mirabelli was reacquired from San Diego last Monday, the battery combined for another smooth and efficient game as the Red Sox' offense knocked Orioles starter Erik Bedard out in the third inning en route to a 9-3 win last night at Fenway before a sellout crowd of 36,507.
Wakefield, who got the win, improving to 2-4, had been supported by an average of only 2.8 runs in six previous starts. In this one, he took advantage of bountiful offense, including a five-run second inning. He left after six innings leading, 7-3, and the bullpen did the rest in Boston's fifth consecutive win this season over Baltimore (and 10th straight over the Orioles overall).
''There is a comfort level that I am back to," said Wakefield. ''I am not saying there wasn't one with Josh [Bard], but there is a comfort level with Mirabelli back there. He did a great job again tonight."
Wakefield, who threw 99 pitches and allowed seven hits, got through some minor bumps along the way, after striking out the first two batters (Brandon Fahey and Melvin Mora) he faced.
The knuckleballer allowed the first batters of the second inning to reach safely -- Jay Gibbons double and Ramon Hernandez hit by pitch -- but retired the next three. The Orioles scored a run in the third on Mora's RBI double and two in the fourth when Chris Gomez homered with Kevin Millar aboard.
Wakefield did his best escape act in the fifth, loading the bases with one out before getting Millar to fly to center and Luis Matos to fly to left field.
Wakefield retired the side in the sixth, then called it a night, winning for the first time in five starts.
''It was really nice; getting that many runs made my job a lot easier," Wakefield said. ''I tried to keep us in the game for the time I was in there."
Since manager Terry Francona publicly expressed his support for struggling shortstop Alex Gonzalez Thursday, the No. 9 hitter has had productive at-bats. In the second inning last night, he singled hard to center, scoring a pair of runs. Wily Mo Peña had singled home the first run of the inning after Bedard walked Manny Ramírez and Mike Lowell.
''You can see our whole dugout just pulling like crazy for him," Francona said of Gonzalez. ''When you get help offensively all the way through the order, you just stretch that lineup out and it bodes well for us."
It was also a breakthrough night for the Red Sox as a whole. They had been 3-6 against lefthanded starters before facing Bedard, and were hitting only .231 against lefties, 22d in the majors.
Bedard, who dipped to 4-2, threw 50 pitches in the second inning alone. It hastened his departure three batters into the third, after Peña (single), Trot Nixon (single), and Mirabell (RBI double) reached.
''[Bedard] just didn't have his stuff tonight," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. ''It wasn't a typical outing for Erik. That happens. He's been great for us all year."
The Sox have scored 35 runs in the first five games of the season series with Baltimore.
After Gonzalez's two-run single in the second, Kevin Youkilis singled to center, scoring Nixon with the fourth Boston run. The fifth run came home on a passed ball by Hernandez on a called strike three to David Ortiz, who reached on the play.
With the Sox ahead, 6-3, in the fourth, Ramírez, who already had walked twice, hit a titanic shot over the Sports Authority sign in left. It landed on the roof of the garage across the street and went through the back window of a gray sedan. Ramírez and Peña both drove in runs with sacrifice flies in the eighth.
Julian Tavarez relieved Wakefield and pitched a scoreless seventh, but almost got into another altercation with an opposing player in the eighth.
Tavarez drilled Matos in the left hip with two outs, and Matos said something to the Sox reliever on his way to first base. Tavarez held his finger up to his ear as if to say he hadn't heard what Matos had said. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but home plate umpire Mark Carlson intervened quickly.
After Tavarez followed by allowing a double to the wall by Gomez, he was taken out of the game in favor of Mike Timlin, who retired No. 9 hitter Nick Markakis on a pop out to Gonzalez in short left-center field to strand runners at second and third.
Tavarez indicated afterward that he and Matos are good friends and said, ''I wasn't trying to hit anybody."