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Johnny Damon slides home ahead of the tag of Seattle catcher Dan Wilson in the fourth inning. The Red Sox improved to 44-18 when Damon scores at least once. Johnny Damon slides home ahead of the tag of Seattle catcher Dan Wilson in the fourth inning. The Red Sox improved to 44-18 when Damon scores at least once. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis )

Lowe keeps Sox on a high

Three-run shot by Ortiz proves the crucial blow

One thing about Red Sox fans: the ageless baseball maxim about never getting too high after a victory or too low after a defeat generally is lost on them. Every day, it seems, is Armageddon.

"When we lose two big games to Oakland, everybody overreacts to it, and when we win three big games, you have a tendency to overreact, too," said principal owner John W. Henry. "I think that's natural. When you really care about something, you're prone to overreact."

By that measure, the Sox last night launched their fans toward full-scale pandemonium as they hushed the Mariners, 6-1, before 34,344 at Fenway Park for their fourth straight victory. Just four days after the Oakland losses appeared certain to have the fainthearted unfurling black crepe, the Sox improved to 7-6 before today's finale of their key 14-game showdown with A's and Mariners -- a finale in which Pedro Martinez will emerge from sick bay to take his career record of 11-0 with an 0.96 ERA against the M's.

The Sox will be tickled if Martinez simply follows the lead of Derek Lowe, who deftly stymied the Mariners last night for 7 1/3 innings. Coming off a six-inning work of art against the A's that was cut short when a blister developed on his right thumb, Lowe showed no sign he was affected by the sore as he surrendered the lone Seattle run by scattering five hits and managing to survive five walks.

The sinkerballer, who has endured his share of the Sox fandom's wrath, departed to one of the loudest ovations of the season.

"I've said all along it's a black and white city," Lowe said. "When you go [bad], they boo, and when you pitch well, they cheer. It's that simple, and I understand it."

The victory allowed the Sox to maintain their share of the wild-card lead with the A's and hang five games behind the Yankees in the American League East. And they did it all without an appearance by the Rally Karaoke Guy. No video necessary.

The Mariners, meanwhile, were in free-fall, losing their fifth straight game as their edge in the AL West diminished to one game over the A's.

With his resilience, Lowe improved to 13-6 and lowered his ERA to 4.66. He also was rewarded with all the runs he needed thanks mainly to David Ortiz, who slugged a three-run homer into the Monster seats to break open a 3-0 game in the fourth inning.

"I can't remember the last time I saw [Lowe] struggle," Ortiz said. "He's been pitching like that for a while, and that's what we need, some pitching like that from him and [John Burkett] and Jeff [Suppan]. If we can keep them out there for six or seven innings, we're going to be just fine."

Ortiz had help from Johnny Damon and Nomar Garciaparra, who each reached base safely three times and knocked in a run, as Damon continued his second-half surge and Garciaparra rebounded from an 0-for-6 aberration the day before and rolled back into his season-long groove in the Fens. It was a double-victory day for Garciaparra, who earlier watched his fiancee Mia Hamm and her Washington Freedom beat Atlanta for the WUSA championship.

But Ortiz's blast was the difference-maker for the Sox.

"This guy might be fixing to get hot again," manager Grady Little said after Ortiz slugged his third homer in four games.

Ortiz gestured to ESPN analyst Joe Morgan after his homer in the nationally televised game.

"I was talking to him earlier about hitting," Ortiz said. "But that came out of nowhere. I said, `Joe, there you go, get that.' "

Lowe, who departed with one out and runners at first and second in the eighth, was picked up by Mike Timlin, who sandwiched strikeouts of Mike Cameron and John Mabry around Randy Winn's infield single to help preserve the victory. And Scott Williamson finished things off in the ninth amid the rush to re-board the Sox bandwagon.

Suddenly, Seattle is scrambling to slow Boston's momentum.

"They're swinging the bats well over there," Mariners manager Bob Melvin said. "They seem to be on everything we're throwing right now. They're playing well, and we're not playing our best. But it'll turn."

The Sox prevailed only after they wasted a couple of sweet scoring opportunities early in the game against Seattle starter Ryan Franklin. They left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings before they finally broke through in the third. After Garciaparra singled leading off, Manny Ramirez singled him to second before Ortiz grounded out to put Garciaparra in position to score on Kevin Millar's ground out. The RBI was Millar's 80th of the season, five shy of his career best.

But soon the Sox were really surging, rolling up five more runs against Franklin in the fourth on run-scoring singles by Damon and Garciaparra and the big shot by Ortiz.

And Lowe handled the rest, raising hope he could help carry the Sox down the stretch.

"This is a good time to peak," he said, "if you are peaking."

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