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A wild night

Sox emphatically pick up ground by stunning Angels

Regardless of where you were sitting last night in a sellout crowd of 35,040 in Fenway Park -- even if you were behind home plate, with Curt Schilling's unblinking gaze boring in at you for the better part of 2 1/2 hours -- it was nearly impossible to tear your eyes away from left field.

That was true at the beginning of the night, when the Red Sox once again let Manny Ramirez trot alone to his position, much to his apparent delight, judging from the way he gave his now-famous "Shazam" double-point to the fans in his neighborhood.

And it was still true at the end, and only partially because of the MVP-type performance turned in by Ramirez, whose three-run home run in the first and solo shot in the second sent the Sox on their way to a 10-7 defeat of the Anaheim Angels, their closest pursuers in the wild-card race. The Sox are now 2 1/2 games ahead of the Angels, which means they still will be ahead after the Halos leave in two days.

There was also this: the most delicious piece of scoreboard-watching in recent memory, the one in which the person behind the green wall kept replacing the metal numbers next to "CLE," the team above the "NYY." First, there was a "6" after the second inning. Then a "9" after three, a ridiculous "15" after five -- and still more! -- a "16" after six, and a history-making, can-you-believe-it "22" in the ninth, mocking the "0" next to "NYY."

Just like that, the Yankees' lead, on the first day of September, is only 3 1/2 games, the Sox in only 16 days lopping an astonishing seven games off what had been a seemingly insurmountable 10 1/2-game edge. Fasten your seatbelts, Nation, for what is promising to be one of the wildest rides in the 103-year history of the Olde Towne Team.

"Contrary to what a lot of people in this region believe, the Yankees don't [inhale excessively]," said Curt Schilling, who said he felt chills on the way to the ballpark, even before pitching the Sox to their seventh straight win, their longest streak of the season. "Their shortstop has four rings, they have probably one of the best managers in sports.

"I don't expect them to fall down on the job. They were good enough to put 10 1/2 games between us. We're going to need some help to catch up. But if we just stay focused on what we're doing on a daily basis here and take care of our jobs and play the game the way we are playing it, offensively and defensively and pitching, I think we're going to be all right."

The Sox, who were ahead by nine runs until the Angels scored two in the eighth and the light-hitting Alfredo Amezaga hit a grand slam in the ninth off Mike Myers, bade a reluctant farewell to a sizzling August with an impressive display of almost everything that went right in the 21-win month:

* Ramirez's show of power allowed him to tie and then pass Jim Rice on the all-time home run list (383 and counting) with a drive into the Angels bullpen in the first, then a first-pitch shot into the center-field bleachers.

"When he hits three-run home runs in the first inning, it lights up our dugout," said Kevin Millar, who took a seat so Dave Roberts could play, a move that paid off handsomely when Roberts hit his first home run as a member of the Sox, a three-run Pesky Pole special in the seventh.

"I said to [Terry] Francona, I've never hit a 3-and-1 fastball home run to right in my life.' That's what makes him so special. Then he hits a 0-and-0 fastball to dead center?

"He's the baddest man in the game."

* Schilling set down a dozen Angels in a row after dodging early trouble, went 7 2/3 innings without walking a batter, and emerged with his 17th win against just six losses (9-1 in Fenway). The Sox are 20-7 in Schilling's starts.

"It was one of those days," said a rhapsodic Schilling, "when you pray that you show up and do your job because it is such an awesome thing to be out there in front of these people and doing that."

* Johnny Damon was on base three times and jump-started each of the first two innings.

"He's a catalyst for that club," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, "and any way he gets on, it's going to be tough."

* There were big hits all the way down the order, including Roberts's home run in a four-run seventh that made it 10-1. Bill Mueller had three hits, and the Sox had 16 in all.

"I couldn't be more grateful for the Pesky Pole," said the Southern Californian, who is quickly learning the local lore. "I don't hit many home runs, so for this one to be a difference-maker is big."

* There was highlight-reel defense, most notably Mueller's grab of Chone Figgins's scorcher with a runner on third in the second, and Damon's back-against-the-wall catch of Adam Riggs's drive in the eighth.

"The turning point to me was the play by Billy Mueller," Schilling said. "Two outs, if they get a run there, who knows how they feel about themselves?"

All the happy faces in the Sox room offered ample proof of how the Sox are feeling. They have won 13 of 14, and 19 of 23. Most of those wins came against the bottom-dwellers in the American League, but not last night. In the Angels, the Sox were facing a team that was almost as hot as they were, having had a nine-game winning streak end Sunday. The Angels tied a franchise record for wins in August with 19.

But any message that they hoped to send to the Sox last night evaporated quickly, as starter John Lackey allowed nine of the first 12 batters to reach base. Even after Ramirez's home run in the first, Lackey allowed the Sox to rev up again with two outs, as Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Mueller went double, single, double to add another run.

Lackey was gone after putting two on with one out in the fourth. Reluctant reliever Ramon Ortiz, who recently complained about being dropped from the rotation, promptly gave up an infield hit and balked home a run with the bases loaded, making it 5-1.

Further Angel embarrassment came in the sixth, when third baseman Figgins allowed a popup to fall on the infield dirt.

Ramirez's two-homer game gave him a league-leading 36 for the season.

The reverberations could be felt all the way to the Bronx.

"They're human, just like we are," Roberts said, when asked if the Bombers might be looking in their rear-view mirror, especially since they must play the Sox six more times. "The main thing is we play those guys so well. We have great pitching and a very balanced team. I'll put that up against anyone."

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