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Delcarmen now is set up well to succeed

His 35th homer of the year - a solo shot in the eighth - earned David Ortiz a pat on the head from Mike Lowell. Ortiz went 3 for 4, rapping a double to go with his homer. Lowell was 2 for 4. His 35th homer of the year - a solo shot in the eighth - earned David Ortiz a pat on the head from Mike Lowell. Ortiz went 3 for 4, rapping a double to go with his homer. Lowell was 2 for 4. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

A couple of years ago, veteran reliever Mike Timlin saw the potential in young Manny Delcarmen.

"You can have my job," Timlin told him. "But I'm not going to give it to you."

This season, Delcarmen has staked a claim to that job, primary setup man in the Red Sox bullpen, by remaining consistent when many of his fellow relievers have faltered late in the season.

Delcarmen has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances (8 1/3 innings), and he boasts a 1.74 ERA in September.

Since being recalled from Pawtucket May 21, Delcarmen has a 2.09 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 43 innings, displaying what catcher Doug Mirabelli has called the best pure stuff on the team.

"Coming up this year, I said I wanted to come up here to stay," Delcarmen said. "I've been throwing the ball really well, so hopefully it will continue, end the season strong, and looking forward to the postseason."

It's a 180-degree turn from last season's finish, when Delcarmen limped home with an 11.25 ERA in September, allowing opponents to hit .425 in the month.

"He's done a good job by going out and throwing strikes," Timlin said.

"Last year, I think that was part of his problem. He wasn't ready to throw strikes at the right time. Now he's mixed up his pitches - fastball, changeup, curveball."

Delcarmen credits conditioning work for keeping him fresh.

"I feel a lot stronger than I did at this time last year," he said.

Manager Terry Francona said the 25-year-old pitcher has matured, spurring his development into a force out of the bullpen.

"Manny's another kid that's growing up right before our eyes," Francona said. "You see it with guys so often, but it is exciting. You see the work ethic increase and get better. You see the body change a little bit. You see them kind of grow, not just physically but mentally, and how they react in games."

For Delcarmen, it's doubly exciting to have this kind of success in Boston. He grew up here, and was a second-round pick of the Red Sox in 2000 after graduating from West Roxbury High.

Lowell is Werner's pick

On the NESN pregame show last night, Sox chairman Tom Werner called Sox third baseman Mike Lowell the team's MVP.

"One man's opinion," Werner said when his comments were relayed after last night's division-clinching win to Sox principal owner John W. Henry.

"Oh, really?" Henry said.

Henry was asked, given Lowell's value, what the chances were the prospective free agent will be back next season.

"In Florida, Mike played for me three years, my first three years [as Marlins owner]. We sort of grew up in the game together. It would be a wonderful thing."

Lowell, who singled, doubled , scored twice, and drove in two runs, happened to approach Henry while he was speaking in the chaotic Sox clubhouse, champagne bottle in hand.

"I'm already wet, I'm already wet," Henry protested. "That's OK - I just wanted a hug," Lowell said.

Lowell may soon get a lot more than a hug from Henry. Even if the third baseman, who has 118 RBIs, files for free agency, the Sox will have exclusive negotiating rights with him for 15 days after the end of the World Series.

Wakefield is ready

Tim Wakefield, today's scheduled starter, has made it through another solid season, with a chance to pick up his 17th win. His role in the postseason, though, isn't set in stone.

"I don't know what's going to happen later next week," Francona said. "We'll get to that when it's time."

Wakefield, a starter for the Sox the last five seasons, came out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, even though he was scheduled to start the next game. He went 3 1/3 innings in relief of a 19-8 loss to the Yankees, saving the bullpen for later in the series, which the Sox took in seven.

"That was unique also because we were getting waxed," Francona said. "He decides to go out there, he'll take the ball, and it ends up helping us. But that stuff, that's the way he is. We respect him for a lot of reasons; that's one of them."

Strength in numbers

The power numbers are down for David Ortiz, whose 35 home runs and 117 RBIs are below the pace he set the previous three years (an average of 47 homers and 141 RBIs).

But Ortiz is excelling in different ways this season, with career highs in batting average (.333), doubles (52), and on-base percentage (.444), in which he leads the major leagues by a wide margin.

"He just set the bar so high that for whatever reason, power-wise, he didn't get there," Francona said. "But still, that's a pretty good year - which isn't over."

Ortiz has battled problems this season with his legs, most notably his right knee, which will require surgery after the season.

Tavarez on hold

Last September, Julian Tavarez was unexpectedly thriving as a starter, going 3-0 in five starts and persuading the Sox to open this season with him as the No. 5 starter. He was in the rotation until just after the All-Star break, but this September Tavarez has barely been used, appearing just four times in relief, pitching 5 2/3 innings. September call-up Bryan Corey has been used nine times, pitching 9 1/3 innings.

It's a foregone conclusion that the Sox will not pick up the $3.85 million option on Tavarez's contract. What happened at the end of this season? "Nothing happened," Tavarez said.

Then why isn't he pitching? "I can't answer that question," he said. "I don't know. I don't worry about it. I had a long season. I pitched a lot this year."

Nothing happened with the manager or the pitching coach? "Nothing that I know," he said. "They say hello to me every day. I say to them, 'If I don't pitch today, can I throw on the side?' That's what I do. If they pitch me in the game, fine; if they don't, fine, as long as we go to the playoffs. I don't get [upset]. I've been around."

Masterson drops by

Red Sox prospect Justin Masterson, drafted in the second round in 2006, was in the clubhouse yesterday . . . Center fielder Coco Crisp missed his fourth straight game with a virus, but his condition is improving. "Coco felt a lot better," Francona said. "He was actually going to pinch run for David [Ortiz] in the eighth, so we're making progress there." . . . Manny Ramírez played his fourth game since returning from a strained oblique muscle. He batted second again and came out after the seventh, going 0 for 3. "Manny's quads are sore," Francona said. "Nothing pulled or anything like that, but it's understandable. You can try to simulate playing as much as you can, but it's just not the same. We just got to a point where it was time to come out."

Amalie Benjamin and Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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