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And not a step closer . . .

Rays third baseman Wade Boggs is 0-for-3 with a walk, putting his milestone hunt on hold for at least another day.

Wade Boggs didn't get his 3,000th hit Friday.

Or his 2,999th.

Or his 2,998th for that matter.

Boggs went 0-for-3 with a walk, leaving him three shy of the milestone and undoubtedly disappointing the 34,623 who came to Tropicana Field hoping to see their hometown boy make history.

"It's not the first 0-for-3 I've ever had and it probably won't be the last," Boggs said.

"It's the same thing I've been seeing for 18 years and it's not going to change. They're going to continue to try and get you out. Just because this is something special for me, it's not special for them."

Boggs flied to left his first time up, smacked a grounder back to the pitcher in the third, grounded to first in the sixth and walked in the seventh, dodging a 97 mph Steve Karsay fastball that could have put the quest on serious hold.

"I thought it was going to hit me in the hand actually," Boggs said. "It scared me. I had flashbacks of sayonara, see ya later, we'll see ya in 2000."

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Despite the pomp and the circumstance, Boggs really wanted Friday to be a normal day. He got up at the normal time (12:07 p.m), had his normal pregame meal (chicken), went through his normal pregame routine.

But it's hard to be too normal when you're on the verge of history.

So he made a point to wear the lucky shirt his daughter, Meagann, gave him for Father's Day. He let his son, Brett, pick out a game bat to replace one he cracked in Seattle. And of all the chicken dishes his wife, Debbie, can fix, she just happened to make chicken and dumplings, which just happened to be what Wade ate before the last home game, when he got three hits.

"I wanted to treat today as normal as every other day," Boggs said. "I didn't want it to start forming a distraction to where today would be something different."

But as much as Boggs wanted Friday to be normal, it wasn't just another day.

It started with the phone, which didn't stop ringing. "Suddenly we had friends we didn't know we had," Debbie said. Then there was the humming fax machine, and some surprise visitors. But like any intuitive spouse, Debbie could tell that it was not just another day by the way Wade was acting.

"Grouchy," she said. "No, don't use that word. He's just on edge. That's better. You know it's going to happen and you want to get it done so you can get back to playing baseball."

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There was a 3,000th hit Friday, but it was by Tony Gwynn, singling in his first at-bat in Montreal.

All along, Boggs said he was rooting for Gwynn, not against him, and that it wasn't a race. And the first thing Boggs did at his post-game news conference _ well actually the second after apologizing for mispronouncing teammate Rolando Arrojo's name as a-ROY-o _ was to congratulate Gwynn.

"Nice going," Boggs said. "Work on 4,000 now."

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It is important for Boggs to make this family affair. Debbie was in her usual seat on the aisle of row AA in section 106, declining use of a suite offered by the team. Brett was the bat boy. Meagann was in a wedding on the east coast, but, according to Boggs, was there in spirit.

It seemed most special to him that his 75-year-old father, Win, was in the stands, having made the trip from the north Florida fish camp he runs. So much so that Wade got defensive and emotional when responding to criticism from syndicated sports talker Jim Rome, who accused Boggs of manipulating the countdown so he could reach the milestone at home.

"I told (manager) Larry Rothschild two weeks ago that if it comes down to getting it on the road, I'm going to get it on the road," Boggs said. "Then I had a long conversation with my father and he was going to go to Oakland and Seattle and he changed his plans. So that threw a monkey wrench in the whole thing.

"He said, "Don't worry about it, I'll see it on the news highlights,' and that really drove a stake into my heart because my mother (who was killed in a 1986 car accident) is not going to be here. And for guys like Jim Rome to chastise me and say I want to do it in front of my father that hurts me more than anything you can imagine. It just crushes me for him to say that I manipulated this just to do it at home. That's callous in my book. It just means so much to me to do it in front of my father."

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In the end, Boggs said it was equally important to him to reach the milestone at Tropicana Field, "to share this with my community."

The 34,623 who were there Friday treated him warmly, with a rousing ovation for each at-bat and a sprinkling of congratulatory signs. But there were more than 9,400 unsold seats, which doesn't speak particularly well for the Tampa Bay area sports market.

"I would think for a historic moment we'd sell it out," managing general partner Vince Naimoli said. "It ought to be a sellout."

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Boggs will try again tonight. There have been only nine occasions this season when he went two or more games without a hit, but he has hit only .204 against Cleveland starter Charles Nagy. "I'm sure there's a little pressure on him right now," Nagy said. "He has to go out there and put the bat on the ball and whatever happens, happens."

Butterflies, sure, Boggs said. But no pressure.

"It'll happen whenever it wants to," Boggs said. "You can't sit there and drive yourself nuts as to when is it going to happen or that it's got to happen in the next three at-bats."

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