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Nomar impresses in first game back

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BOSTON — Nomar Garciaparra's second opening day was much better than his first.

He made his 2001 debut with the Red Sox on Sunday, leading them to a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. He had hoped to play April 2 but underwent wrist surgery that day while his teammates started the season.

"I definitely missed it," Garciaparra said. "I love playing the game. It puts a smile on my face."

There were smiles throughout the sellout crowd of 33,375 as he homered to tie the game at 2 in the sixth, then hit a two-run single in the seventh for the deciding runs.

"To some extent, it does feel like opening day," he said. "You have that nervousness and anxiety and I had that."

He also had the batting stroke he used when he led the AL with a .357 average in 1999 and .372 mark last year.

"Every time he comes to the plate, everybody expects good things to happen and he usually doesn't disappoint," Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg said.

It took Garciaparra all of two at bats to get ready. He grounded out to third in the first, then struck out in the third. But when he came up with the Red Sox trailing by a run in the sixth, he felt more comfortable.

"I was hard on myself," he said. "I already had two at bats. I said, 'Let's go."'

And the ball did, all the way to straightaway center field for a 405-foot homer off Sean Lowe that tied the game. His winning hit with the bases loaded came off Gary Glover.

That gave fans still another reason to cheer him.

They did it before the game when he took the field to stretch. They did it when he was the first Boston player to take the field in the top of the first. And they did it for 40 seconds when he came to bat for the first time since Sept. 29.

The 20-game hitting streak he ended last season with is now at 21, but Garciaparra knows he won't always produce.

"Sometimes you come through and sometimes you don't," he said. "I didn't know what to expect."

His day didn't start well as Ray Durham, the game's first batter, hit a broken bat grounder to the right of Garciaparra, who let the ball bounce off the heel of his glove and threw late to first baseman Brian Daubach for an error.

"I gave him a tough chance," Red Sox starting pitcher David Cone said. "It was a cue shot."

Garciaparra showed no ill effects from the injury as he went into the hole in the second inning to field Paul Konerko's grounder and fired the ball to Daubach for the out.

Offensively, he hit in his customary third spot, giving the Red Sox a strong middle of the order they envisioned in spring training — Garciaparra followed by cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez, designated hitter Dante Bichette and center fielder Carl Everett, who returned from a knee injury Saturday after missing 32 games.

Garciaparra played four games last week on rehabilitation assignment for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox at Indianapolis.