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RED SOX 6, BRAVES 3

Up to the task

Gabbard gets the call and delivers Sox win

By the time Kason Gabbard left the mound yesterday, afternoon had turned into early evening, pouring rain had given way to a sunny, settled blue calm, and the lefthander had changed the day's pitching matchup from a raised eyebrow -- a rookie vs. a 5-1, 1.77 ERA veteran ace -- to a raised baseball cap.

With the crowd of 36,140 standing in appreciation of five scoreless innings (it would turn into a two-run outing when Brendan Donnelly allowed two inherited runners to cross the plate in the sixth), Gabbard doffed his cap in the direction of fans happy not only because of his stellar curveball and career-high in strikeouts (7), but also because the 6-3 Red Sox win simply happened, starting two hours and 30 minutes after its scheduled first pitch.

And though Gabbard wouldn't be making the trip, being optioned right back to Pawtucket after the game (Manny Delcarmen was called up), the Red Sox ended the series bound for New York. Bound for a different type of series, if records are the sole measure.

Thirty wins and 43 games into the 2007 season, the Sox head to the Bronx, prepared to face the Yankees' current top three pitchers (Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte), bolstered by the fact that three rookie starters against the Braves still produced a series win against a top National League club.

Yet, apparently taking their cues from the Patriots, each member of the Red Sox repeated the mantra of one day at a time, one game at a time. No one would allow that the Yankees series -- one that could stretch the gap between the teams past the point of believability -- meant much more than a chance to win more, hit more, pitch better.

"We don't need to worry about that now," David Ortiz said. "We have [119] games left. That's a lot of games to play. We just got to keep on playing the way we have, and keep on winning.

"It's their problem right now. We're doing our thing right now. They need to figure out what they're going to do to beat us. We don't need to worry about that."

Not when the lead is at double digits, and the wins involve nearly everybody on the team. Not when the hits are perfectly positioned, in location and in terms of the moment.

Like yesterday's four first-inning runs, including three on a two-out bases-clearing triple by the not-so-speedy Jason Varitek (who, after his first of the season, and the 11th of his career, said a ball has "got to be very well-placed" to add to that tally). That outburst put Atlanta's Tim Hudson down early, giving Gabbard a boost before he left the dugout for a second time and took advantage of a shaky start by a pitcher Sox manager Terry Francona had praised before the game as "one of the ultimate competitors."

"I love him," continued Francona, who was the bench coach on Hudson's 2003 A's team. "I hope we beat his brains out today, but I love him."

Like most wishes in this thus-far semi-charmed season for the Red Sox and Francona, he got his wish, the Sox running up six runs and eight hits in just 4 2/3 innings, pushing Hudson's ERA out of the super prime real estate, all the way up to 2.42.

With those four runs, plus another in the second (Dustin Pedroia double, sacrifice, walk, Ortiz fielder's choice), and another in the fifth (Kevin Youkilis home run, around the right field foul pole), Gabbard sailed through five innings. After giving up two straight hits to start the sixth, he was relieved by Donnelly, who allowed a Matt Diaz RBI single, Brian McCann walk, and bases-loaded Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk to score two.

"At that point in the game, things were getting to the point where we didn't need [them]," Francona said.

But Javier Lopez, who has pitched extremely well since being called up from Pawtucket other than in Saturday night's debacle, entered to get Scott Thorman to ground into a 3-6-1 double play.

So, other than a ninth-inning tack-on run against Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox were out of their interleague set against the Braves pretty well intact, even with the three games being played in just more than 30 hours.

And despite the bright lights of New York beckoning -- and the temptation to lay into the hurting and disappointing Yankees -- the Red Sox refrained from piling on. They will try to do that with their starting pitching and their timely hitting over the next three days in Yankee Stadium. No need to admit that pouncing on a team down on its luck would help solidify a lead that is near historic at this point in the season.

"We'd like to win [today]," Francona said. "That's what we're going to really try to do. That's just how we feel. I don't know about the pouncing part. We'll just try to win [today].

"Don't try to ride that roller coaster, 'cause it happens too much in this game."

But, still, was there a message in there for the Yankees? Or not just the Yankees, but rather baseball?

"We don't need to worry about nobody right now," Ortiz said. "Everybody needs to worry about us."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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