Red Sox pull even in AL East

Wells' 7 strong innings top Yanks

Giambi's throwing error is key in Boston's three-run sixth inning

Red Sox 5 Yankees 3


BOSTON -- He is the unkempt hero of the fall, the husky left-hander with the baggy pants and the partially buttoned jersey who doesn't disappoint when the leaves turn colors.

For four seasons, David Wells worked that autumn magic for the New York Yankees, a team the brash and bawdy Wells seemed destined to pitch for.

This September he is wearing the ill-fitting uniform of the enemy. The result, though, hasn't changed.

Wells allowed three runs in seven strong innings last night to lead the Boston Red Sox to a 5-3 win against the archrival Yankees, a win that tied the two American League East superpowers atop the division with two games remaining in the regular season.

"The stage isn't too big. He really enjoys competing under these circumstances," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "So you get to see, for the most part, his best, which is really good."

Last night's game wasn't do or die for the defending world champion Red Sox, but it was close. Boston entered the contest trailing the Yankees by one game in the standings. A loss and they'd have to win the two remaining games at Fenway Park just to force a tie at season's end.

So the Red Sox turned to the 42-year-old bruiser with a mid-4 ERA and the unrelenting competitive fire.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people that doubted [last night's] game," Wells said. "But when you get an opportunity to pitch in this type of game, you've got to love it. You've got to want to go out and take the reins and run with it."

The win not only gave the Red Sox (94-66) a first-place tie with the Yankees, but it also put both teams one game up in the wild-card standings ahead of the Cleveland Indians, who were 3-2 losers to the Chicago White Sox in 13 innings.

With a sellout crowd of 34,832 watching intently on a crisp New England night, Wells (15-7) baffled the Yankees hitters with an array of mid-80s cut fastballs and curves.

"I knew what I had to do from the get-go and that is keep them off base," said Wells, who went 4-1 in September and is 19-10 overall against the Yankees in his career.

It didn't start out so smoothly, though. After striking out Derek Jeter to start the game, Wells walked Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, hit Gary Sheffield with a pitch to load the bases and then gave up an RBI single to Hideki Matsui.

It was uncharacteristic wildness for Wells, who had walked just 19 batters in 177 innings this season.

He got out of the jam, retiring 14 of New York's next 15 batters.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox struck back. David Ortiz had a RBI single in the first against New York rookie Chien-Ming Wang (8-5), 25. Jason Varitek hit his 22nd homer of the season an inning later, a shot that landed in the Green Monster seats in left center.

Then the Red Sox added three more in the sixth, aided by Giambi's lapse of judgment. With a two-run Boston lead and the bases loaded, Varitek hit a soft grounder to Giambi at first. He threw home for the force instead of taking the guaranteed out at first, but his toss bounced off-line and briefly eluded catcher Jorge Posada. The Giambi error allowed the run to score and the bases to stay loaded. John Olerud followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1.

The two unearned runs proved to be key when Jeter hit a two-run homer to right in the top of the seventh off Wells.

Three Red Sox relievers - including Mike Timlin, who picked up his 13th save by recording four outs - combined for two scoreless innings to preserve Wells' victory.

Wells said he didn't have any extra motivation facing the team that gave up on him at the end of 2003. The situation, and the game's importance to his club, was enough.

"I am not afraid to fail. I think if you have that in the back of your mind, you are probably gonna," Wells said. "That's how you make a name for yourself. You go out there and get that compliment of being a big-game pitcher by ... pitching in these situations and being successful."

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