Royals To Face Red Sox Knuckleballer

Kansas City (39-53) at Boston (56-36)

The Boston Red Sox have had trouble stringing together victories lately, but Tim Wakefield has not.

The 40-year-old knuckleballer looks to win his fourth consecutive start and lead Boston to back-to-back wins as it continues its three-game series with the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

Although the Red Sox (56-36) own a nine-game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East, they are only 20-21 since May 30. They have alternated wins and losses in their five games since the All-Star break, including a 4-0 victory over Kansas City (39-53) in Monday night's series opener.

As Boston tries to win consecutive games for the first time since a four-game winning streak from July 2-5, it will turn to Wakefield (10-8, 4.47 ERA), the team's most consistent starter in recent weeks.

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Wakefield has earned a decision in all 18 of his starts in 2007, and five of the last six have been victories. He has lasted at least five innings in all but one of his outings this year.

The veteran allowed four runs and nine hits over six innings against Toronto on Thursday, but that was enough to record his third straight win as the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-4. Wakefield, who is 10-5 with a 3.66 lifetime ERA in 23 appearances -- 16 starts -- against the Royals, got help from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who combined for five hits and five RBIs.

The All-Star sluggers had subpar starts to this season by their own standards, but have rediscovered their power strokes since the break. Ortiz is 9-for-21 (.429) with two home runs and seven RBIs over five games in the second half, while Ramirez is 7-for-20 (.350) with two homers and eight driven in.

Ortiz and Ramirez both homered Monday, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia added a solo shot. Rookie left-hander Kason Gabbard pitched a three-hitter to earn the win.

The defeat dropped the Royals to 1-3 on a brutal nine-game road trip against AL playoff contenders. Kansas City dropped two of three at Cleveland to open the swing, which will conclude with a three-game set against AL Central-leading Detroit this weekend.

John Thomson was originally scheduled to start this contest, but landed on the 15-day disabled list Monday due to back spasms. In his place, the Royals will summon Leo Nunez from Triple-A Omaha to make his first career start.

Nunez made 48 relief appearances for Kansas City the last two seasons, going 3-2 with a 6.99 ERA. After starting this year on the DL due to a broken left wrist, the right-hander switched to starting and went 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 10 minor league appearances.

"He's been throwing good. He comes well recommended," Royals manager Buddy Bell said of Nunez on the Royals' official Web site. "He's a competitive little son-of-a-gun."

Nunez struggled in two appearances at Boston in August 2005, yielding five runs over 1 1-3 innings while getting charged with one loss.

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