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RED SOX 4, ANGELS 3

Heaven sent

Sox strand 14 yet still sweep away Angels

LeBron flubs a dunk now and then. Tiger muffs a 2-footer or two. Ichiro even swings and misses occasionally.

But the Red Sox? The way they have mastered the art of winning, Terry Francona's entire team could get lost on the way to work, it seems, and somehow still triumph.

So what if the Sox went 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base last night trying to eke out a one-run victory?

Another night, another joyful farewell rendition of "Dirty Water."

"I hope people start giving us credit because this is a very special run we're going on," said Derek Lowe, chief architect of the latest triumph. "We show up every single day knowing we're going to win."

All but defying baseball logic, the Sox won for the ninth straight time and for the 15th time in 16 tries as they completed a stunning, three-game sweep of the Angels, 4-3, before 35,050 at Fenway Park. Lowe led the way as he went 7 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk in improving to 6-1 since the Angels whacked him around July 15 in Anaheim, Calif.

The victory vaulted the Sox 4 1/2 games ahead of the Angels and six games ahead of the Rangers in the wild-card race. The Sox continued to hover 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees.

"For [nearly $130] million, that's how we're supposed to play," closer Keith Foulke said after recording his 26th save. "This is why they pay us the big bucks."

The Sox, whose nine-game streak is the longest active run in the majors, also won a 10th straight game at home for the first time since July 25, 1993. Even better, they have Pedro Martinez facing old friend John Wasdin to open a three-game series tonight against the Rangers in the Fens.

"Ownership put together a team that is capable of being the best in baseball," Johnny Damon said after helping to lead the offense. "We weren't showing that earlier in the season. We were very frustrated, ownership, fans, and everybody. But this team is definitely putting it together."

On a night when David Ortiz was ailing (sore right shoulder) and Manny Ramirez was hitless, Lowe did his part while the Sox overcame their general futility in the clutch thanks to some timely hitting by the relatively unheralded players at the top and bottom of their lineup. The first two and last two batters in the Sox' lineup went a combined 8 for 15, scoring three of the team's four runs and knocking in three. The fifth batter in the order, Kevin Millar, doubled to knock in the other run.

"That's the way you win games over the long haul, when everyone contributes," said Jason Varitek, who batted cleanup for the first time in his Sox career, because of Ortiz's injury. "The bottom line is, [the Angels] couldn't rest throughout our lineup, and that's big."

The 1-2 tandem the top of the order -- Damon and Mark Bellhorn -- continued to lead the way as the Sox have scored more runs (213) from the top two spots in the order than any team in the American League. Damon and Bellhorn showed why, as Damon went 3 for 4 with a walk, scored a run, and knocked one in, and Bellhorn went 2 for 4 with a walk.

"We're definitely getting overlooked, especially what we're doing at the top part of the lineup," Damon said, "but Bill Mueller and Dave Roberts were huge."

With Mueller, the defending AL batting champ, anchoring the eighth spot, the Sox lead the league in production in several categories, including runs (83), from the eight-hole. And Mueller kept it rolling by homering and launching a sacrifice fly for a pair of RBIs.

Thanks to the likes of Roberts, who doubled twice and scored each time, the Sox also lead the league in runs (71) from the ninth spot in the lineup.

"This lineup is very balanced," Roberts said. "We aren't always waiting for the three-run homer. We have ways to produce runs and create runs."

The Sox also got crucial relief as Mike Myers retired a batter in the eighth before Foulke recorded the final four outs to convert his 12th straight save opportunity. But Foulke needed a little help in the ninth inning after Troy Glaus singled leading off. At that, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called for a hit-and-run with Adam Kennedy batting. Scioscia figured Kennedy, who was in a 17-for-31 groove, would make something happen. But Kennedy swung and missed, and Varitek fired to second, where shortstop Orlando Cabrera deftly scooped the low throw and erased Glaus.

Foulke said he was "real surprised" the Angels opted for the hit-and-run rather than sending in a runner to attempt a steal. And Scioscia seemed a bit surprised by the outcome.

"Cabrera made an incredible play," Scioscia said. "That's about all you can [say]."

The Sox overcame their difficulties with runners in scoring position thanks mostly to Lowe, who protected the one-run lead after the teams did all their scoring in the first three innings. He made some dandy pitches, particularly a 1-2 curveball to fan Jose Molina with two outs and the tying run at third in the sixth inning after a triple by Kennedy.

Roberts also contributed defensively, making the play of the game in the fourth inning. The Angels appeared poised to score after Roberts dropped Kennedy's one-out liner to right field for an error. Kennedy then wasted little time stealing second base before he broke for third when Chone Figgins whistled a line drive to right-center. But Roberts made a sensational diving catch, then popped up and fired to second to double up Kennedy. "That was one of the best catches I have ever seen," Francona said. "And talk about redeeming yourself right away."

That was all Roberts had hoped for.

"I was just happy the baseball gods were looking out for me and gave me another opportunity to atone for my mistake," he said. "It worked out great."

Just like everything else lately for the Sox.

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