Ramirez, Red Sox add to wild-card cushion

BOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Red Sox fought through injuries, errors
and a strong wind blowing toward home plate. None of that could
keep them from increasing their AL wild-card lead.

Manny Ramirez hit his 35th homer far over the left-field wall,
and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitched into the ninth inning as
the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4-3 Thursday night.

When AL batting leader Bill Mueller left the game in the fifth
with back spasms, joining outfielders Trot Nixon and Johnny Damon
on the sidelines, the Red Sox didn't panic. Manager Grady Little
said he expected Mueller to play Friday night in Cleveland.

"This game is all about pitching," Todd Walker said. "If you
get a good starting pitching performance like we've had the last
few days you're going to win your share of games."

Boston increased its lead in the wild-card race to 2½ games over
Seattle, which lost 2-1 at Texas in 10 innings. The Red Sox are
five games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East with 10 to

Derek Lowe pitched eight innings in an 8-2 win in Monday night's
series opener, and Pedro Martinez threw a six-hitter in a 3-2
victory Tuesday night.

Neither had an inning as crazy as the top of the third Thursday,
when shortstop Nomar Garciaparra threw away a potential double-play
ball, then failed to tag Carl Crawford, who was caught off second
base. But Boston later got help from Rocco Baldelli, who was tagged
out on third base with Crawford already on the bag.

"I don't think we're going to make any instructional videos
after that top part of the inning from either side of the field,"
Little said.

In the top of the ninth, second baseman Walker was charged with
an error on a popup he thought Garciaparra had called for, but
Byung-Hyun Kim pitched got two outs for his 14th save in 17

"We had opportunities," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said.
"I've said that a lot this year."

Wakefield (11-7) missed his first complete game in five years,
but understood when Little took him out.

"He gave me every opportunity to finish the game. That is all I
could ask for," Wakefield said. "I put B.K. in a bad situation."

Ramirez homered in the sixth against Chad Gaudin.

"When this guy gets on fire he can carry this team," Kevin
Millar said.

The Red Sox need Ramirez, especially with Nixon missing his
seventh straight game with a strained left calf muscle and Damon
sitting out his second in a row with an abdominal strain.

Wakefield allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits. He
left with a 4-2 lead and runners at first and second.

Kim walked pinch-hitter Al Martin before allowing a run-scoring
groundout to Crawford and retiring Baldelli on a fly to deep

"I hit that last ball as solid as I can hit it," Baldelli
said. "But into that wind, there wasn't much you can do about it.
I just saw it stop."

He and the other Devil Rays also saw Wakefield's knuckler
spinning in the breeze.

"He threw strikes the whole game," Baldelli said. "The ball
was dancing."

Wakefield retired 12 consecutive batters before Pete LaForest
reached first on Walker's error in the ninth. LaForest was forced
at second on Marlon Anderson's grounder, but Toby Hall's single put
runners at first and second and brought in Kim.

Little said Wakefield "was making pitches, but that was the
time to turn it over to Kim."

Boston took a 1-0 lead against Rob Bell (4-4) in the first on a
leadoff double by Walker and an RBI single by Mueller.

Tampa Bay tied it in the third when Julio Lugo singled before
Crawford grounded to Garciaparra. The throw to Walker went wild for
an error, putting runners at second and third. Then Baldelli
grounded to Garciaparra, who ran Crawford back toward second. But
he threw late and Crawford slid under the tag at second while Lugo
scored the tying run.

The Red Sox went ahead 3-1 in the third. Consecutive singles by
Damian Jackson, Walker and Garciaparra produced the first run.
After Mueller grounded into a double play, Ramirez's ground-rule
double drove in Walker.

Lugo's RBI single in the fourth cut the lead to 3-2.

Game notes
Millar was in a 2-for-29 slump before he singled in the
sixth. ... Tampa Bay needs to win three of its remaining 10 games
to avoid 100 losses for the third straight season. ... Boston took
the series three games to one and is 8-0-3 in its last 11 series
against Tampa Bay.