Harris rescues Boston in ninth


BOSTON (AP) – Willie Harris fired the ball from a position he rarely plays to throw out one of baseball’s fastest runners at home and save a win for the Red Sox that should have been much easier.

Boston beat Tampa Bay 5-4 Sunday after starting the ninth inning with a 5-0 lead behind Tim Wakefield. Then two relievers walked five batters and only Harris’ throw on Carl Crawford’s lined single to left kept the Devil Rays’ Joey Gathright from scoring the tying run.

Instead, the throw completed a four-game sweep for Boston and brought a massive sigh of relief from manager Terry Francona.

“Oh, boy,” he said. “Gut-wrenching.”

Until the ninth, it had been a very good day for Boston.

Wakefield (4-6) allowed five hits in eight innings, Mark Loretta drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Coco Crisp returned to center field and the leadoff spot after missing 42 games with a broken finger.

But in the ninth, Rudy Seanez walked three and Julian Tavarez walked two while Francona stuck to his plan of not using Jonathan Papelbon, who is 18 for 18 in save opportunities but pitched the previous three days.

Boston still would have won 5-0 had Doug Mirabelli not committed a passed ball with two outs on a third strike to Greg Norton that allowed the first run to score.

Harris had played just two innings in left field before Sunday since reaching the majors in 2001 and played there Sunday while Manny Ramirez sat out with minor back and knee problems. Harris fielded Crawford’s liner on one bounce.

“In between the pitches I kind of saw Joey look back, checking the outfield. I kind of joked around with him like I’m going to throw you out,” Harris said. “I believe I had the ball even before he touched third base.”

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon defended the decision to send Gathright home. The runner agreed.

“You’ve got to take that chance,” Gathright said. “You’ve just got to go and hope for a bad throw or something.”

The rally began with two outs and Johnny Gomes at first on a walk from Seanez after Francona removed Wakefield.

“He asked me if I wanted to go back out there and finish it,” Wakefield said. “I had 108 pitches and I really didn’t feel like pushing it any further.”

Wakefield had won 12 straight decisions over Tampa Bay before a 5-1 loss at Fenway Park on April 20. He had faced the Devil Rays 27 times without losing since his other loss to them on April 16, 1999.

Sunday’s victory tied Wakefield with Mike Mussina of the New York Yankees for most career wins against Tampa Bay. Wakefield is 14-2. Mussina is 14-5.

Wakefield struck out four and walked one. After Julio Lugo’s double in the third, he retired the next 13 batters before Travis Lee’s infield single in the seventh. He gave up a single to Gathright in the eighth.

“I honestly thought we had some good swings against him,” Maddon said. “I don’t know that his knuckleball was as good as it usually was.”

Seanez walked the bases loaded in the ninth before Tavarez struck out pinch-hitter Greg Norton, but the ball eluded Mirabelli. Tavarez then walked Gathright and Lugo to make it 5-3.

Still, Tavarez earned his first save of the season and was charged with no earned runs.

“That wasn’t a real fun one to sit through,” Francona said.

Mark Hendrickson (3-5) retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced before giving up five runs in his remaining two-plus innings.

With two outs in the fourth, Boston scored on a bases-loaded walk to Trot Nixon after singles by Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell and a walk to Mirabelli. The Red Sox made it 2-0 in the fifth on doubles by Harris and Loretta, who went 2-for-5 and is 23-for-55 during his hitting streak.

Singles by Alex Gonzalez and Harris put runners at first and third with two outs in the sixth. Crisp then hit a hard shot back to Hendrickson, who threw the ball into the first-base dugout, allowing Gonzalez to score.

Hendrickson left the game with a mild cramp in his left hamstring, but Maddon said he was fine and would have been taken out then anyway. Shawn Camp came in to face Loretta, whose two-run single made it 5-0.

Crisp went 1-for-5 after one rehabilitation outing Saturday night at Triple-A Pawtucket that followed two extended spring training games in Fort Myers, Fla.

Notes: Tampa Bay DH Johnny Gomes batted third after sitting out his first game of the year. … Youkilis scored at least one run for his 11th straight game. … The Red Sox activated Crisp, recalled RHP Manny Delcarmen and placed OF Wily Mo Pena and RHP Mike Timlin on the 15-day disabled list. … RHP James Shields is scheduled to make his major-league debut Wednesday night for Tampa Bay at Baltimore. … Boston OF Gabe Kapler and LHP Mike Holtz are set to go to Fort Myers on Thursday for extended spring training.

AP-ES-05-28-06 1908EDT