Red Sox 7, Athletics 1

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Johnny Damon’s impressive numbers against Mark Redman might have been what ultimately convinced the Boston Red Sox to let him play with a tender pinkie.

Not to mention he got through batting practice with no problems and told manager Terry Francona how much he wanted to play against his former team.

Damon hit a leadoff homer in his return to the Red Sox lineup after missing four games with a jammed little finger, starting Boston’s 7-1 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.

“I couldn’t even grip a bat a couple days ago, so this is a relief,” Damon said.

Derek Lowe (14-10) won his fifth straight decision and hasn’t lost since a 4-3 defeat at Detroit on Aug. 6. Kevin Millar homered and finished 3-for-3 with a double.

Gabe Kapler added a two-run homer and Orlando Cabrera hit a two-run double for the Red Sox, who stayed 2 1/2 games back of the first-place Yankees in the AL East after New York beat Tampa Bay 11-2.

The Red Sox lead the wild card and have won 13 of their last 14 and 25 of 30. They got three more homers after hitting two in their 8-3 victory Monday night, and are getting solid contributions from every spot in their order.

“Every night we’re patting somebody else on the back,” Francona said. “I think that’s how winning teams play. If somebody doesn’t get a hit with one out, somebody else gets it with two outs. We’re playing pretty consistent baseball right now.”

Oakland had its division lead trimmed to 1 1/2 games over of the Anaheim Angels, who beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2.

The highly anticipated Red Sox-A’s series finale Wednesday features Oakland ace Tim Hudson against Red Sox star Pedro Martinez.

Boston has taken seven of eight meetings with the A’s this year. The Red Sox eliminated the A’s in five games in the AL division series last season— Oakland’s fourth straight first-round exit.

“They have pretty much handed our hats to us,” A’s manager Ken Macha said.

Lowe didn’t retire the side in order once, but was effective over 6 1-3 innings. He allowed one run and five hits, struck out one and walked four.

“The four walks didn’t help, but I tried not to give in and I tried to throw strikes,” Lowe said. “This is a very good team. They do a lot of things, and they play extremely well here.”

Damon, who played one season for the A’s in 2001, lofted a 1-0 pitch off Redman (10-11) down the right-field line in the first for his 15th homer of the year and a 10-game hitting streak. Kapler connected the next inning with a shot to left.

Damon came in batting .588 (10-for-17) lifetime against Redman, though that number dropped to .555 with Damon’s second-inning groundout and a flyout to center in the fifth.

“It’s that same feeling knowing you’re the best team around,” Damon said. “That year in Oakland, we should have won the World Series. … That’s the same kind of feeling we have right now.”

This game was less tense than the series opener, when the Red Sox beat Barry Zito.

Manny Ramirez was booed lustily each time he came to the plate. Ramirez homered Monday and also was credited with a catch in left field by third-base umpire Brian Knight on a sinking liner by Mark Kotsay in the eighth that replays later showed bounced first.

Fans threw debris on the field from all directions, causing a short delay. Knight had been called up from Triple-A to fill in because Mark Wegner was tending to family business in Florida. Wegner took Knight’s place Tuesday and worked first base.

Redman has only one win in his past four starts and fell to 0-3 against the Red Sox this year—losing 9-6 at Fenway Park on May 26 and again 11-3 on July 7. The left-hander allowed six runs on eight hits in 5 2-3 innings, struck out three and walked one.

Kapler also came in with big stats against Redman (.667).

“Numbers fall that way I guess,” Redman said. “I can’t put a finger on it. At least I’m not leading the league in home runs. Not yet. Boston can swing the bat. They have a good approach, and they played excellent defense against us.”

Eric Byrnes singled twice to raise his career average against Lowe to .667 (4-for-6).

Mark McLemore returned to Oakland’s lineup after he was scratched late before Monday’s game with sore knees.

Notes

The Red Sox hit their third leadoff homer this year—all by Damon, who has 15 for his career. Damon also has scored a run in 10 straight games. … Boston OF Trot Nixon and 2B Pokey Reese were activated from the disabled list as expected. Neither player was in the starting lineup, but Nixon entered as a pinch-hitter for Damon in the ninth and received a warm ovation from the many Red Sox fans in the stands. He grounded out to first against Justin Lehr and was cheered loudly again. … The A’s recalled LHP Lehr from Triple-A Sacramento to make his second stint with the club this season.

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