ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the third straight day, and Boston manager Terry Francona found it difficult to say no.

“I’m not going to try and convince him. I’ll be honest with him. I was available today,” Schilling said after getting the final out of a nervous ninth inning Wednesday to give the Red Sox and Tim Wakefield a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Wakefield (9-9) allowed an unearned run and six hits over 7 1-3 innings, struck out four and walked three to win for the first time since July 5. The knuckleballer moved into a tie with Mel Parnell for third place on Boston’s career wins list with 123 – 69 behind co-leaders Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

But the best news of the day for the Red Sox was Matt Clement was released from the hospital and rejoined his teammates at Tropicana Field, less than 24 hours after being hit in the head by a line drive that caromed off the right side of his head, just behind the ear.

“I think that gave us a bigger lift than anything else,” Francona said. “We knew he was at the hotel, then you heard players buzzing when he showed up.”

The Red Sox manager was not eager to use Schilling after the ace-turned-closer pitched the previous two nights, giving up the winning run in an extra-inning loss Monday and going two innings Tuesday to finish a 10-9 victory.

But when the manager left the dugout to say hello to Clement, who arrived in the middle innings, Francona found Schilling throwing in a hallway.

“A guy prepares like that to get ready for the game, and he’s OK, I’m not going to stop him from pitching because I’m stubborn,” Francona said.

Clement was released from the hospital after results of a second CT scan were negative. He took a short nap at team hotel, then showed up at the ballpark to accompany the club back to Boston.

“Considering the circumstances, it could be a lot worse,” Clement said, adding he was sore and experiencing occasional dizziness but otherwise felt fine. “If I could tell you that was going to happen to me the way it did … to be able to walk here, a little groggy right now but in a decent condition, I’m truly thankful and lucky.”

The All-star right-hander had a cut on his ear but did not sustain a concussion.

“That had a chance to be very, very bad,” Francona said. “What it ended up being was very, very scary.”

Wakefield improved to 11-1 against the Devil Rays, including 6-0 at Tropicana Field. Since suffering his only loss to Tampa Bay at Fenway Park on April 16, 1999, he has made 25 appearances against the Devil Rays – 15 as a starter.

Chad Bradford replaced Wakefield after a walk to Julio Lugo with one out in the eighth. Bradford got the next four outs, then allowed a two-out single by Pete Laforest. After Mike Myers walked pinch-hitter Alex Gonzalez, Schilling came in to face pinch-hitter Eduardo Perez.

Schilling walked Perez to load the bases and bring up Carl Crawford.

Crawford fell behind 0-2, fouled off four straight pitches, then grounded out to first to give Schilling his third save in four opportunities.

Alex Cora’s second homer of the season snapped a 1-1 tie in the fifth against Seth McClung (1-6), who allowed three runs and four hits over six innings. John Olerud drove in a run with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly and Boston’s first run scored when Olerud grounded into a double play in the fourth.

Kevin Millar added a RBI double off Jesus Colome for a 4-1 lead in the ninth.

Tampa Bay’s run scored on a passed ball in the fourth. Travis Lee had three of the six hits off Wakefield.

Notes: The Red Sox played without Manny Ramirez, who was given the day off. … Trot Nixon, who strained his left oblique muscle swinging at a pitch Tuesday night, was put on the 15-day disabled list. The Red Sox filled the roster spot by recalling LHP Lenny DiNardo from Triple-A Pawtucket. … Boston C Doug Mirabelli had his second career stolen base, swiping second when McClung did bother to check him in the fifth inning. His only other steal came while playing for San Francisco on May 16, 2000. … Tampa Bay 1B Aubrey Huff, who’s 4-for-42 against Wakefield, was held out of the lineup.

AP-ES-07-27-05 2116EDT

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