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October 2, 2006

The evolution will now be realized

BOSTON - Twenty-nine years ago Baltimore's Rick Dempsey closed out the 1977 regular season with a rain-soaked sprint around the Fenway Park bases, culminating in a head-first slide along the infield's tarp. Strange, indeed.

Four seasons ago, the last time the Red Sox ended a season without admission into the postseason, the brand new ownership group inexplicably handed a brand new convertible over to Rickey Henderson, a player who toiled for 72 games in a Boston uniform. Even stranger, yet.

Then came yesterday.

In a day that contained four hours and four minutes of rain delays, a five-inning no-hitter by pitcher Devern Hansack, who had been out of baseball for the previous two seasons and was playing in Holland at this time last year, dramatic exits and behind-the-scenes intrigue, this one took the cake.

Would you expect anything less from a season that began with a general manager walking out of his office in a gorilla suit?

The obvious storylines entering the afternoon centered around the litany of players who resided on the precipice of not calling themselves members of the Boston Red Sox beyond the final out of what turned out to be a 9-0, rain-shortened victory for third-place Boston.

For some, such as free agent-to-be second baseman Mark Loretta, there was no time like the present to get a grasp on the future.

"I talked to (Red Sox general manager) Theo (Epstein) today," Loretta said. "Without giving too much away, I think where they are now is going through a series of scenarios, maybe eight or 10 with free agent, trades, ect., and I fit in a few of those.

"He initiated in the last couple of days, and I appreciated it. But in other words, they aren't sure. ... I wouldn't rule anything out."

Open-mindedness was a mantra permeating throughout the Sox yesterday. But, at every turn, it was met with a sense of reality.

It was why Loretta was taken out at the beginning of the fifth inning, and right fielder Trot Nixon exited two outs later, both receiving standing ovations from what was left of Boston's 81st straight sellout this season.

"I would love to stay here without a doubt," said Nixon, who revealed that neither he nor his agent, Ron Shapiro, have been in contact with the Red Sox. "I feel like I can compete on an everyday basis. If it doesn't work out, maybe there is an opportunity to come back (after his next contract).

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