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RED SOX 8, ANGELS 3

Second helping

Martinez and Ramirez show hungry Sox the way as they take decisive 2-0 lead on Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Remember this about Johnny Damon dubbing his happy-go-lucky band of brothers a bunch of idiots. He never meant their baseball IQ bordered on brainless.

Damon pictured his long-haired, corn-rowed, Harley-riding Red Sox pals more like manager Terry Francona views them: "A bit unique in a lovable kind of way."

Sometimes they go astray. They may catnap on the basepaths, as Mark Bellhorn did in the second inning last night when he strayed off second base with the bases loaded and got thrown out in a lapse that snuffed a promising rally. And they may on occasion falter in the field, as Orlando Cabrera and Manny Ramirez did in the fifth when they muffed an easy pop to ignite an Anaheim rally.

But, for the love of Pete (in this case Pedro), they find their way home more often than not, as they did in stunning the Angels, 8-3, before 45,118 on Gene Autry Way to seize a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Division Series and put Bronson Arroyo in position to help sweep the series when he starts Game 3 tomorrow on Yawkey Way.

"We feel great," Damon said. "Going back 2-0 with a day off today, you can't ask for much better than that."

MVP candidate Ramirez struck the decisive blow when he launched a sacrifice fly with one out in the seventh inning amid a 3-3 stalemate to drive in Damon with the go-ahead run. The Sox waged the pivotal rally against Anaheim's bullpen dynamo, Francisco Rodriguez, who chipped in by wild-pitching Damon to third after Damon bounced into a fielder's choice and stole second.

Then the lovable ones broke the game open with four runs in the ninth, with Trot Nixon's RBI single and Cabrera's three-run double the big hits.

"We were down 0-2 last year, so we know how that is," Kevin Millar said. "We're going to go in there and try to give our best effort [tomorrow] and try to get this thing over with."

As for Martinez, he made plenty of his own magic in the lovefest as he answered the doomsayers by working seven strong innings to lead the Sox to the threshold of their second straight berth in the American League Championship Series. Firing 116 pitches, one shy of his season high, and regularly hitting 94-96 miles per hour on the radar gun, Martinez rationed the Halos three runs on six hits, two walks, and a hit batsman for his first postseason win since he helped clinch the Division Series in Game 5 last year against the A's.

"A lot of people doubted the man," said Varitek, who launched a crucial, two-run homer in the sixth inning off Angels starter Bartolo Colon to erase a 3-1 deficit. "And I don't doubt that man."

Enough of the "trash-talking," Martinez said, about him being miffed that Curt Schilling got the Game 1 start rather than him. Martinez said he has a strong relationship with Schilling.

"To me, every time they give me the ball, I am number one," he said. "I don't believe what the experts have to say. I'm just here to do my job and I'll do it anywhere you put me."

"He's back," Millar said. "This guy shows you why he's one of the best going."

Ramirez also drove in the first Sox run by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the second inning.

While Martinez improved to 10-1 in 14 career starts against the Angels, the Sox seized a 2-0 lead in a postseason series for only the fourth time in franchise history. They also did so en route to winning the 1916 World Series and 1975 ALCS, and on the way to losing the 1986 World Series.

This time, there was no way Martinez would return for the eighth. Everyone knew it, and when he departed after the seventh, he embraced nearly every teammate in the dugout.

Then he left it to the pen, which the Angels made battle for every out in the eighth. After Darin Erstad singled off Mike Timlin to open the inning, Timlin capped a seven-pitch struggle with Vladimir Guerrero by fanning the ever-dangerous slugger. Next came Mike Myers, who submarined Garret Anderson, catching him waving at a curveball for a third strike. And Keith Foulke followed, getting Troy Glaus looking on a borderline called third strike.

Foulke then mowed down the Angels in the ninth after the Sox all but put the game out of reach in the top of the inning. But Foulke knows the risks of a five-game series, even with a 2-0 lead. He and the Oakland A's lost an ALDS to the Sox last year after winning Games 1 and 2.

"It's definitely no walk in the park," Foulke said. "But these guys came in with a lot of momentum. Realistically, you just want to get one, so this is great."

Amid the 3-3 deadlock in the seventh, Bill Mueller helped break the logjam by narrowly beating out a grounder to second for a single. Damon's fielder's choice forced out Dave Roberts, who was running for Mueller, before Bellhorn contributed by drawing his second walk of the game. Up came Ramirez, who waved up the runners on Rodriguez's wild pitch before delivering his sacrifice fly.

If nothing else, Martinez wanted to prove his four-game losing streak -- his longest ever in a single season -- was a fluke.

The early returns were promising. Unlike his previous two starts, when he fired his first pitches 88 m.p.h., Martinez opened at 92 and cranked it up to 96 as early as the second inning. His breaking ball and changeup looked sharp enough to nicely complement his fastball as he breezed through the first inning. But the Sox offense had done him no favors in the top of the inning. After loading the bases with one out on a couple of flared singles by Damon and Bellhorn and a walk to David Ortiz, the Sox let the opportunity slip away when Nixon flied out to shallow left on the first pitch he saw from Colon and Millar grounded out on a 3-2 fastball.

The Sox fared only marginally better when they loaded the bases again in the second. This time, they did it with two outs on singles by Mueller and Damon and a walk to Bellhorn. But no sooner did Ramirez capitalize by drawing a walk on a 3-2 fastball from Colon to force in the game's first run (after just missing an opposite-field grand slam when his drive veered foul of the right-field pole) than Bellhorn blundered.

Boy, did he blunder. With Ortiz batting and the bases still loaded, Angels catcher Jose Molina snagged a 1-0 strike from Colon and fired a strike of his own to second base, catching Bellhorn leaning toward third in no-man's land. Bellhorn slipped a bit as he scrambled to get back to second, but he arrived way too late as David Eckstein applied the tag.

The Angels seemed to seize some momentum from Boston's early woes. Martinez contributed to the cause by walking Glaus leading off the bottom of the second. At that, Jeff DaVanon grounded a 96-m.p.h. fastball to left for a single, sending Glaus to second, and rookie Dallas McPherson, facing Martinez for the first time, poked an opposite-field single to left, allowing Glaus to dash home for a 1-1 tie. Martinez encounterd more trouble in the fifth. First, Molina (0 for 5 in his career against Martinez) lifted a pop to shallow left center. Cabrera ranged back from short as if he were going to grab it, prompting Ramirez, who also seemingly could have caught the ball, to slow down. But then Cabrera suddenly cut off his pursuit, allowing the ball to drop for a leadoff single.

Martinez aggravated matters by letting the next batter, Eckstein, rifle an 0-2 curveball to center, moving Molina to second. A batter later, Martinez drilled Erstad on the left knee with a cut fastball, loading the bases with one out for Guerrero. And Guerrero quickly made him pay by lacing a misplaced, 94-m.p.h. heater to right-center for a two-run single, staking Colon to a 3-1 lead.

Meanwhile, Colon retired nine straight batters after Bellhorn's gaffe. Ortiz ended the streak by hustling out a grounder to short for a single to lead off the sixth. Ortiz's hit went for naught as Nixon bounced into a double play. But after Millar kept the inning alive by sneaking a grounder up the middle past the diving Eckstein for a single, Varitek walloped the next pitch into the right-field stands to pull the Sox even, 3-3. 

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