Alex Cora, David Ortiz, J.C. Romero and Jason Varitek joined the Maine Action Team youth volunteers to bring dozens of disadvantaged elementary and middle school students to Fenway Park this week when the Major League Baseball Players Trust's Buses for Baseball program rolled into Boston.

The trip was organized by the Maine Action Team to highlight the need for positive enrichment programs for disadvantaged children and youth. The trip on Tuesday marked the first time many of the young students had ever left the state of Maine or attended a Red Sox game.

The kids received round-trip transportation, game tickets, food, beverages and souvenirs courtesy of the Players Trust. More exciting for the students was the opportunity to go on the field and rub elbows with some of their favorite Red Sox players.

The Maine Action Team, consisting of high school students taking part in the volunteer initiative administered by the Players Trust and Volunteers of America, accompanied the younger students on the bus trip.

The Action Team program was created to encourage young people throughout the United States to volunteer in their communities.

Action Teams, consisting of Major League baseball players and area high school student Team Captains, are working together in Portland (Maine), Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.

To date, Action Teams across the country have inspired more than 9,000 high school students to help over 38,000 people in need by volunteering in their communities.

Litsch goes from bat boy to pitcher: Sometimes, dreams do come true. Five years ago, Jesse Litsch was a bat boy for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he always said he wanted to be a Major League baseball player. It was a dream that was often met with laughs.

On Tuesday night, Litsch's dream came true when he pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays with his father watching from the Rogers Centre stands.

"This is the best day -- the best day of my life," Litsch told the Tampa Tribune.

Litsch was filling in for the injured Roy Halladay and had a storybook start, falling one out short of a complete game in a 2-1 win against Baltimore. He allowed only four hits, all singles, and left the mound to a rousing ovation, leading to a curtain call.

"It's awesome," Litsch said. "It's still awesome. I'll never forget it."

The Blue Jays drafted Litsch in the 24th round two years ago. Before being recalled to the Majors, he was 5-1 with a 0.96 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire. Before becoming a professional baseball player, Litsch worked for the Devil Rays, first in the community relations department and then as a bat boy after winning a "Why I want to be a Devil Rays Intern" contest.

"He always used to tell me that one day he'd be facing me," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said. "I didn't believe him, but I guess he was right."

Hamels always looking for the magic day: Rare is the day when such a young pitcher collects the accolades that the Phillies Cole Hamels has received of late. Not that he doesn't deserve them.

In his latest gem on Wednesday, Hamels struck out the first four Brewers he faced and did not allow a runner until the sixth inning in the Phillies' 6-2 victory. In all, Hamels went eight innings and allowed just two runs. Talk of multiple no-hitters abound when Hamels has his best stuff.

"How many? I don't know. But he's going to throw a few no-hitters," manager Charlie Manuel told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Hamels is on board with his manager.

"Of course. Every year I go out and try to get at least one," he said. "I just keep fighting and hope I get one every year."

Having an excited bunch of fans in your corner helps, too.

"When you get 40,000 fans behind you 100 percent, that excites you," Hamels said. "That's the adrenaline you kind of need."

Manuel makes obvious his feelings about Hamels, noting that he believes good things are going to happen every time he pitches.

"Every time he goes out there, you expect him to be real good," Manuel said. "Throw a shutout, pitch a no-hitter, whatever. He's something special."

Billingsley adjusts to bullpen role: A top prospect coming up through the Minors as a starting pitcher, Chad Billingsley is making the adjustment to a Major League reliever. In his last six appearances, Billingsley has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings and he has struck out 16 batters in that span.

"He's the pitcher I've caught all through the Minors," catcher Russell Martin told the Los Angeles Times. "The last couple of outings, that's the guy."

Billingsley admitted that the transition to reliever was tough for him at first.

"It was a big adjustment to go through to always come to the field mentally prepared that you're going to pitch," Billingsley said. "When I first started off it was a little difficult."

Despite his recent success in the bullpen, Billingsley hopes to return to the rotation in the future.

"There have been many great starting pitchers who started their careers in the bullpen," Billingsley said. "This is not what I want to do for my career."

Lincecum revels in Oswalt matchup: Rookie Tim Lincecum was matched up against Roy Oswalt on Thursday. Oswalt is one of the top pitchers in the league and the pitcher that Lincecum admires most. But the rookie held his own, pitching seven innings and striking out 10 in a game the Giants ended up winning in 12 innings. Lincecum held his own against the Astros' ace.

"The only time I really thought about it was when I was hitting against him," Lincecum told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I thought, 'God, it's coming in pretty quick.' I didn't think I was going to touch it. I fouled two off. That's points for me."

Lincecum made an impact on the veteran Astros.

"He's unbelievable," Astros third baseman Mike Lamb said. "The stuff he was throwing out there tonight was everything he's hyped up to be. He was 97 mph with movement. You just don't see that every day."

Lincecum struck out future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio three straight times.

"Timmy did an unbelievable job," reliever Kevin Correia said. "He had some of the best stuff I've seen in a long time. He made a lot of guys who have seen a lot of good pitchers in this game look pretty bad."

Carmona's roll continues: Fausto Carmona, he of the 1-10 record in 2006, is on one heck of a roll. His latest victims were the Minnesota Twins, who were shut out on Thursday by Carmona and the Indians, 2-0.

Carmona is now 5-1 on the year with an ERA of 2.55. In his last five starts, he's 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. "I was confident, I was under control the whole game," Carmona told MLB.com.

On the other end of the decision today was the Twins' two-time Cy Young Award winner, Johan Santana.

"You can't do any better than what [Carmona] did today," Indians manager Eric Wedge told the MLB.com. "You talk about a pitcher going out and taking steps right in front of you, and it's impressive. He just keeps going."

Riding a streak of 15 straight scoreless innings, Carmona is the talk of the clubhouse.

"He can almost pitch in the big leagues with one pitch," said catcher Victor Martinez, who estimated that Carmona threw about 100 sinkers in the game. "It's unbelievable."

The difference between this year and last, says Carmona, is that this season he is staying within himself. "When I was pitching last year, I was a little out of control," he said. "Now I pitch under control."

Wedge agrees.

"His feel for the ballgame and the way he's controlled his heartbeat has been good," Wedge said of Carmona. "You knew this guy would be a pretty good pitcher, but you can't envision something like this [happening] so fast."

Berkman's advice lifts Pence: With the team struggling to win games and score runs, the Houston Astros turned to top prospect Hunter Pence to provide a spark. The right-handed hitting center fielder has done exactly that since being recalled from Triple-A Round Rock.

Without Pence, the Astros were 9-14. Since adding the rookie to the lineup, Houston has gone 11-6 after losing 2-1 Thursday night to San Francisco in 12 innings. During that span, Pence is hitting .348 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.

On Tuesday, he hit a game-tying, two-run home run in the eighth inning in a game the Astros won in 10 innings. On Wednesday, he hit a home run that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 win over the Giants. Overall, he was 7-for-7 combined in those two games.

While his bat has provided a lift to the team, so has Pence's attitude, which can only be described as exuberant.

"Energy, excitability, enthusiasm," Brad Ausmus said about Pence to the Houston Chronicle. "He's a breath of fresh air."

"He's got so much energy he borders on out of control," Brad Lidge said. "It's a lot of fun to watch."

Pence struggled when he was first called up, getting off to a .219 start at the plate. But after first baseman Lance Berkman pulled him aside and told him to relax and stop rushing his body at the plate, Pence has been red hot, going 15-for-30.

"I'm just feeling comfortable," Pence said. "My hands feel comfortable. Lance told me that when you come up in those big situations and the crowd is getting loud, don't let your body hit for you in the clutch. Let your eyes hit for you. I take a deep breath and relax."

Mahar goes from Double-A to the Majors in two weeks: What a difference a day makes. On Tuesday, Kevin Mahar was an undrafted outfielder playing for Triple-A Oklahoma. On Wednesday, he was in the Major Leagues, playing for the Texas Rangers after the club recalled him to replace Brad Wilkerson, who was put on the disabled list.

"We were told he'd be able to catch the ball and he won't be intimidated," manager Ron Washington told the Dallas Morning News.

Just two weeks ago, Mahar was at Double-A Frisco for the third straight season and struggling at the plate. In an effort to challenge him, the Rangers promoted Mahar to Oklahoma. The move worked as Mahar hit .349 and had a .429 on-base percentage in 11 games.

"I'm still waiting to wake up," Mahar said. "It's just one big dream. Everything is just kind of blurring together."

May 28 could be the day for Clemens: Roger Clemens could make his 2007 debut for the New York Yankees on May 28 in Toronto, the New York Daily News reported.

"I think anything is possible," said Clemens, who's expected to make the first of two minor league starts Friday. "If I come out of the first two decent, they'll pull me aside, and we'll all visit about that for sure. I don't think it's out of the question."

Clemens threw 71 pitches during a bullpen session Tuesday and is likely to throw 45 to 60 pitches in his Minor League start Friday for Class A Tampa. He will then head to the bullpen and throw some more to get his pitch count close to 90 pitches.

"I think I'm right where I need to be to get this under way on Friday," Clemens said. "Endurance and conditioning, I think I'm very close. I've got to get in a game as quick as possible, and I'll have a good telltale sign of what happens on Saturday morning.

"I'm getting closer. I want to be able to perform like I'm supposed to. Hold up my end of the deal. That's the pressure that comes along with it. I have the same question you all do, is my body going to hold up? I can't answer that. All I can do is do the work and get ready for that."

-- Red Line Editorial