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RED SOX 6, ANGELS 3

At arm's length -- again

Sox keep Angels in a Fenway funk

The position is enviable: four games up on New York, 24 to play, the closing three here on Yawkey Way against those damn Yankees, who upended Tampa Bay, 5-4, in the Stadium last night behind Jason Giambi's two-run homer in the eighth.

But David Ortiz can't help but think of what could have been.

''Seriously, we should be facing a better situation than what we are right now," Ortiz said, following last night's 6-3 defeat of the Angels in a game Los Angeles led, 3-0, after an inning and a half. ''Because this team is good all around. But I guess it's all about guys getting confidence. Believe in what you got, believe in what you can do, that's what it's all about."

He was talking about pitching.

''Let me tell you," Ortiz continued. ''Look around. Every time our pitching holds a hitting team down, we win those games. It doesn't matter how much we hit or don't hit.

''It's not easy when a team comes and scores five, six runs in the first, to come back and score seven and win the game. But they've got our back, and we've got theirs."

For much of this season the Sox have sought a balance -- hitting augmenting pitching, rather than hitting bailing out pitching. And, at long last, in a most promising trip through the rotation, the two components of a baseball team found a long-awaited equilibrium.

In a five-day span the Sox got eight innings each out of two starters (Matt Clement Saturday and Bronson Arroyo last night) and two complete games (David Wells Sunday and Tim Wakefield Tuesday). Only Curt Schilling (6 1/3 innings Monday) worked fewer than eight innings.

In those five starts the Sox' rotation combined to pitch 40 1/3 innings, allowing only 12 earned runs for a 2.68 ERA. The bullpen, in the last five days, has been asked to work only 4 2/3 innings.

''It's fun," said Arroyo, who improved to 12-9 with his team-leading 17th quality start. ''You kind of feed off each other. You think of Wakefield going nine [Tuesday] night. I was down on the bench, thinking the same thing."

Arroyo, though, didn't look capable of five innings, much less eight, after Anaheim batted in the second. The righthander was in a 3-0 hole, despite retiring the first two batters of both the first and second innings.

Arroyo was having considerable difficulties with his cutter, a pitch that was getting knocked around Fenway Park.

''I never did figure it out," he said.

So, he went to his changeup, which he rarely utilizes, and retired 19 of 22 batters from the third through eighth innings.

The Sox, in the bottom of the third, began their charge in earnest. No. 9 hitter Alex Cora, playing second base, began the inning against 22-year-old Ervin Santana, who'd been dealing.

Sure, Santana had allowed Kevin Millar's solo homer in the second -- Millar's fourth homer in 11 games, after hitting five in his previous 109 games. But Santana was featuring a biting slider, and he'd fanned three Sox in the second inning alone.

Santana had faced the Sox once previously, Aug. 20, in Anaheim, Calif. Combine that day, and the first two innings last night, and Santana's career line against Boston read: 9 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs.

So, come the third, the Sox went to bat bent on taking pitches and breaking Santana's resolve. It all began with Cora, who took six pitches and walked.

''That got us going," Johnny Damon said. ''He went up to work the count. He took a couple pitches right down the middle. I thought, 'This is awesome.' "

Then Damon came up and saw something in his wheelhouse to begin the at-bat. He, too, laid off, and went on to walk on six pitches. Edgar Renteria, up next, fell behind 0 and 2, and blooped a ball into shallow center that center fielder Jeff DaVanon had sufficient time to get to and probably should have caught.

Instead, he peeled off, and the ball fell between DaVanon, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, and second baseman Adam Kennedy for a single, loading the bases with nobody out.

Said manager Mike Scioscia, whose team has now lost 12 of its last 13 games at Fenway: ''I think it was [DaVanon's] ball."

The momentum changer?

''I think it started with the leadoff walk to Cora and the walk to Damon," Scioscia said. ''Those two are things that you can't do against the Red Sox."

Conveniently, Ortiz came to bat next. He, however, looked to be out when attempting to check his swing at a 1-and-2 pitch. Ortiz, based upon television replays, probably should have been rung up. But third base umpire Larry Young ruled no swing.

Ortiz lined the next pitch to left for a two-run single, tying the game and increasing his major league-leading RBI total to 122. Scioscia was fuming in the dugout. Next up, Manny Ramirez -- he of two RBIs in his last 11 games -- bounced into a double play. But Trot Nixon lined a 95-mile-per-hour fastball far up the wall in left-center, plating Renteria for a 4-3 lead.

Jason Varitek followed, and, after three pitches to Varitek, the Los Angeles skipper decided he'd seen enough baseball for the night. He paid Young a visit, and Young paid Scioscia's fare for a one-way ticket to the clubhouse for the balance of the evening.

The Sox tagged Santana for two more in the fourth, when the slumping Bill Mueller (5 for his last 31) walked with one out. Cora, who also played an excellent second base, then tripled to center, scoring Mueller for a 5-3 lead. Damon followed with a sacrifice fly.

Mike Timlin closed it in the ninth, allowing only a DaVanon double that Gabe Kapler lunged at and nearly caught. But Timlin, who'd begun the inning with a strikeout of Casey Kotchman on a 94-mile-per-hour fastball, ended it by fanning Chone Figgins with a splitter. That made it 23 wins in their last 26 at Fenway, including 10 in 13 games on this season-long homestand that concludes tonight.

When the Sox leave tonight for New York, they're sure to be a far different team than the discouraged club that went 4-6 on its last road trip through Detroit, Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

''We were definitely miserable leaving KC," Damon said. ''We knew coming home if we didn't put it together we might not get to the postseason. We still have work to do."

But less of that work is in-house.

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