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BECK BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

The Rod Beck Era didn't get off the ground very smoothly, but no one was complaining last night after the Boston Red Sox held off the Kansas City Royals, 4-3.

Beck, the reliever acquired from the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, didn't arrive at Fenway Park until the third inning Wednesday night, but still registered his first American League save.

After waking up at 7 a.m. in San Diego, he caught a 9 a.m. flight that arrived in Boston at around 6 p.m. He got his luggage, caught a cab and was headed into the city through the Ted Williams Tunnel.

That's when Beck, who had never been to Boston before, learned something the locals have known since Williams' day: With ballgame traffic on top of rush hour, the 10-mile trip takes about 45 minutes.

After arriving at Fenway, he suited up quickly and jogged out to the bullpen in the middle of the fourth inning.

"I've never been to Boston and never been to Fenway, so this was quite a day," Beck said. "I'm excited about being in a race. That's when I usually do my best work."

Beck came on to start the ninth and retired the Royals in order. He got the final batter, Jeremy Giambi, swinging.

"He probably hadn't even met all the guys on the field when he got out there," Williams said. "I still haven't had a chance to talk to him."

Asked afterward if he had ever faced any of the Royals batters before, Beck noted that his former team, the Chicago Cubs, played Kansas City in interleague play last year and that he "faced Giambi in Arizona" during spring training.

Told that he just struck out Jeremy Giambi -- not his brother Jason, who plays for Oakland -- Beck laughed and said, "I threw him like I threw his brother."

The win kept the Red Sox two games in front of Oakland in the AL wild-card race and stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games.

"Obviously, at this time of year, you always want to be playing in a game that means something," he said. "Over there (the last-place Cubs), we hadn't played in a game that meant something since June."

Borders bolsters Blue Jays

TORONTO -- A World Series hero from Toronto's past provided a much-needed spark to their fading playoff hopes this season.

Pat Borders hit a two-run homer in his first game back with his old team and Kelvim Escobar pitched seven scoreless innings as the Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-0.

"It seems like a long time since I've been back," said Borders, who last played for the Blue Jays in 1994. "But it sure is nice."

Toronto remained five games behind Boston in the AL wild card race.

Borders, who was 1 for 3, signed as a free agent on Wednesday after Cleveland released him earlier in the day from the Buffalo Bisons. The 1992 World Series MVP received a loud ovation in his first at-bat. He gave Toronto a 4-0 lead in the seventh with his first homer since Sept. 11, 1997.

"I was shocked that they signed me. They have two good catchers, but it was a nice surprise," said Borders.

"It was a 3-2 pitch. He (Minnesota's Eric Milton) threw a change-up and I finally got one."

Escobar (11-9) allowed just four hits, while striking out one and walking two.

Twins outfielder Matt Lawton will likely get off with an apology, and not be charged, after being caught on videotape spitting at a teen-age fan at the SkyDome.

It happened during the seventh inning Tuesday night. Lawton, while running down a foul ball, was heckled by several fans. According to published reports, when a 16-year-old made a particularly insulting remark, Lawton spat towards him.

The fan then threw an empty cup at Lawton as the outfielder returned to his position. The fan also made an obscene gesture.

"Your next paycheck is coming to me," the spectator yelled back at Lawton according to a newspaper.

Around the horn

Juan Gonzalez, Luis Alicea and Gregg Zaun homered to help Rick Helling (12-7) stretch his winning streak to six decisions as the Rangers beat the Tigers, 14-7. Dean Palmer, Tony Clark and Damion Easley homered for Detroit. Rangers manager Johnny Oates said he was demoting pitcher Mike Morgan to the bullpen, adding he did not know who would start in Morgan's place Sunday. . . . Albert Belle reached the 30-homer mark for the eighth straight season, hitting a two-run shot to lift the Orioles past the Devil Rays, 3-1. Baltimore's Cal Ripken, activated off the disabled list before the game, went 0 for 3 and remained one home run shy of 400 for his career. He was at 399 when placed on the disabled list in early August with nerve irritation in his lower back. Brady Anderson was moved from center to left field so the team could audition the speedy Eugene Kingsale in center. . . . Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner hit consecutive home runs in the seventh inning to lead the Mariners to a 3-2 victory and a four-game sweep over the White Sox. Seattle won for the seventh time in the last 10 games.

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