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BOSTON -- Not too long ago, the Boston Red Sox wondered whether Bret Saberhagen would be able to pitch in the playoffs at all. Now he could be starting Game Two.

The former Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP, rebounding from his third trip to the disabled list this year, pitched six innings of two-hit, shutout ball Saturday to lead the Red Sox over the Detroit Tigers, 9-1.

"I guess I've got the routine down pretty well," Saberhagen (10-5) said after striking out two and, for the fourth consecutive game, walking none. "I just wish I could have stayed healthy all year. Who knows, maybe we could be even with the Yankees, or even a few games up on them."

The win put Boston three games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees and left the Red Sox with a 4 1/2 -game lead over Oakland in the AL wild-card. The Red Sox have won nine of 11 and 19 of 24.

"I plan on being around for the postseason," said Saberhagen, who has as many wins this year as walks allowed. "That's the only thing I'm playing for."

Nomar Garciaparra went 4 for 4 with a homer to improve his league-leading batting average to .359, and Jason Varitek also homered for Boston. The two former Georgia Tech teammates combined for seven hits, seven RBIs and five runs and also walked once each.

Troy O'Leary had two doubles and drove in two runs to give him 101 RBIs for the year. His previous best was 83, last season.

Saberhagen, the only active Red Sox player to have won a World Series, is cementing his place in the rotation behind ace Pedro Martinez. Saberhagen allowed only two runners: Bill Haselman bounced one past Garciaparra in the second inning and Karim Garcia singled in the sixth. His ERA dropped to 3.11.

"We all know what he's going through, and he goes out there and pitched his heart out, day-in and day-out," Garciaparra said. "We need his mindset and his determination. I think we all feed off that."

Athletics keep pace with win

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Miguel Tejada and Randy Velarde hit two-run homers to back Omar Olivares as the Oakland Athletics beat the Kansas City Royals, 8-4.

Olivares (15-10) won for the seventh time in eight decisions since the A's acquired him from Anaheim on July 29, allowing four runs and eight hits in 7 2/3 innings. Jason Isringhausen got four outs for his fifth save.

Around the horn

Carlos Lee hit a tie-breaking three-run homer in the ninth inning and the White Sox beat the Blue Jays, 7-4. The fading Blue Jays lost their fourth in a row. Lee, who also doubled, had a career-high five RBIs. His 13th homer came with one out off Paul Quantrill (2-2). . . . Aaron Sele allowed six hits in eight innings as the Rangers beat the Devil Rays, 6-1, and lowered their magic number for clinching the AL West to nine. Sele (17-8), who struck out four and walked none, is 10-2 in 14 starts since July 9. . . . Gil Meche (6-4) and Paul Abbott combined on a two-hitter and Alex Rodriguez hit his 39th homer as the Mariners beat the Twins, 5-0.

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