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After early struggles, Martinez gives Indians blast from past

CLEVELAND -- Manny Ramirez, holding court in the Red Sox clubhouse, broke away from a gaggle of reporters when Pedro Martinez arrived before the game wearing a fancy suit, designer shades, and a smile as broad as Lake Erie. Ramirez raucously praised the ace's pricey threads, then delivered a message playfully but bluntly.

The game-time temperature would be 82 degrees. Other than the climate-controlled, 68-degree SkyDome, Martinez had yet to pitch this season with the temperature warmer than 58, and he often had struggled to get loose.

"The weather is good," Ramirez told Martinez, his voice carrying to every corner of the clubhouse. "No excuses."

When Martinez smiled back, Ramirez declared, "The baby is ready tonight."

Well, almost. As it turned out, Martinez needed a little extra time to find his groove as Matt Lawton crushed his first pitch (an 84-mile-an-hour fastball) over the center-field wall and the next two Indians singled, leading to another run, as Ramirez, the designated hitter, watched gravely from the dugout.

Panic? Not Ramirez. Or Martinez.

"It doesn't matter what happens in the first inning," Ramirez said. "Like I told Pedro, he's the baby, the best pitcher in baseball. I know he's going to be there for us."

Soon, the baby was ready, and the Sox were rolling. With Martinez holding the next 24 batters scoreless through the seventh and Ramirez contributing to a dandy comeback, the Sox stunned the Indians and their ace, C.C. Sabathia, 5-2, before 26,825 at Jacobs Field. The victory allowed the Sox to split the series, regain sole possession of first place in the American League East, and return home 2-5 from a disastrous start to their seven-game swing through Texas and Cleveland.

Martinez, in brief remarks afterward, said the weather seemed to help him. And he brushed off his rocky start.

"I felt pretty good from the get-go," he said. "It was just the first pitch of the game. I had to throw strikes and Lawton happened to hit one. I'll take my chances again and over and over and over. I've done that throughout my career and very few times have I given up home runs right off the first pitch."

Martinez ultimately outdueled Sabathia, allowing only one hit and three walks after the first three batters nicked him. Manager Terry Francona, whose closed-door address to his players Tuesday after their fifth straight loss seemed to have a positive effect, said Martinez appeared to baffle the Indians after his shaky start with his cut fastball, though Martinez said the cutter was only part of the story.

"I think all my pitches were there," he said. "It was just a matter of getting into a groove and getting settled."

In any case, the Sox fully embraced the results.

"The Sox are back!" Derek Lowe declared in the giddy aftermath.

"Way to go, Sox!" Mike Timlin hollered as the players packed for the late flight to Logan.

"There will be some air to breathe on the plane," Francona said. "I guarantee you [the players] feel better. You talk about playing loose, but they care so much that it's nice to have something to show for your effort."

Martinez received rich support from Ramirez, who homered and singled to knock in two runs in his early run toward the MVP award. Ramirez's solo shot off Sabathia in the sixth inning tied the game after Mark Bellhorn doubled, moved to third on Gabe Kapler's single, and scored the first Sox run when David Ortiz grounded into a double play.

"I just got lucky and the ball went deep," Ramirez said of losing Sabathia's slider for his 354th career homer.

With the score deadlocked in the seventh, Pokey Reese doubled in the go-ahead run before Bellhorn doubled home Reese to stake Martinez to a 4-2 lead. Ramirez's single in the eighth provided Boston's final run.

But many of the Sox voiced special praise for Kevin Millar, who collected two of the first three hits off Sabathia and finished with four hits to end the road trip in sensational fashion. He hit .556 (10 for 18) on the trek.

"Sabathia's a guy you have to go up against ready to hit," Kapler said. "Millar led the way for us and showed us we could have success against him."

Millar also made a fine running catch in foul territory in right field to end the seventh inning when the Indians were threatening with runners on first and third. When Millar snagged the ball, Martinez pumped his fist. It was the last play of the ace's outing.

"I just kept running and running and running," Millar said. "I was going to crush the wall, but I wasn't going to let that ball drop."

Millar, who had struggled some at the plate earlier, likened his battle to the team's during the losing streak. Both he and the team needed to persevere.

"When you struggle, it's like a cold," he said. "It has to run its course."

Martinez also received an assist from the Sox pen, which continued its remarkable early run. After Alan Embree pitched a scoreless eighth, Keith Foulke worked the ninth to nail down his sixth save in as many tries. The Sox pen pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings in the four-game series against the Indians.

Embree said Francona's private talk with the team had a calming effect.

"He said, `You guys are good, you're going to win ballgames. Just relax and do your thing because we have a good ball club,' " Embree said. "That just allowed the guys to relax and not try too hard. They could just do their thing."

Martinez did his thing so well he could downplay it afterward.

"I got lucky, I think," he said. "I just got lucky."

Like Michelangelo only got lucky.

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