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Full steam ahead

Arroyo, Red Sox leave Mariners in their wake

SEATTLE -- Former Red Sox righthander Carl Mays died in 1971, the year Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller were born. When Mays died, Manny Ramirez was but a twinkle in his parents' eyes. And Bronson Arroyo's parents had yet to fall in love.

So forgive the Sox if they failed to honor Mays last night on the 86th anniversary of his three-hitter against the Cubs that clinched the franchise's last world championship. The fact is, the Sox had better things to do, like try to win a title of their own.

With the echoes of that distant September day in 1918 long since faded, the Sox took another step in their march toward championship glory as Ramirez and Arroyo led the way in dispatching the Mariners, 9-0, before 44,401 at Safeco Field.

The victory vaulted the Sox six games ahead of the Angels in the wild-card race, a mighty soft cushion with 21 games to play, and kept them on the heels of the division-leading Yankees, 2 1/2 games off the pace.

"Obviously, we have good command of the wild card so we can just keep coming out every day trying to grind other teams into the ground and taking two out of every three," Arroyo said. "The Yankees are just going to be a bonus. It's going to be interesting. It's going to be fun, but getting into the playoffs is definitely the main objective."

Improving to 30-9 since Aug. 1 -- a stretch drive that would make Seattle Slew proud -- the Sox galloped ahead on the strength of a nifty outing by Arroyo and yet another offense-igniting home run by Ramirez. The hard-luck Arroyo finally broke even at 9-9 overall as he blanked the Mariners on four hits over seven innings and lowered his ERA to 4.04. He walked none and struck out six as he improved to 7-2 in his last 12 starts and continued to make a strong second-half case for himself as one of the league's best back-of-the-rotation starters.

"He has seized the opportunity," manager Terry Francona said. "He doesn't just want to pitch, he wants to be a winner and a contributor. You can see the difference. He's growing up kind of right in front of us."

As for Ramirez, he belted his 41st home run of the season, a solo shot off Jamie Moyer in the first inning, to join Jimmie Foxx as the only Sox hitters to slug at least 41 homers in two seasons. Not that Ramirez has left much doubt that he ranks with Foxx and Jim Rice as the top righthanded sluggers in franchise history.

Ramirez, who has homered five times in September, needs only five more to match Rice for the second most in a season in franchise history (Rice launched 46 in 1978). And he has a shot at Foxx's season record of 50 homers in 1938.

Further burnishing his credentials for the MVP award, Ramirez made a dazzling catch of a drive by Orlando Cabrera's brother, Jolbert, to end the fourth inning. Ramirez raced to the wall in foul territory and leaped against the edifice to snare the drive by Cabrera before casually flipping the ball over his shoulder to the disappointed crowd.

With Ramirez setting the pace at the plate, his teammates followed as the Sox continued to produce from one end of the lineup to the other. Bellhorn scorched a two-run homer after Johnny Damon's two-run double to key a game-breaking, four-run fifth inning. And Millar and Gabe Kapler did some significant damage in the second inning, with Millar unleashing an RBI double and Kapler a run-scoring single.

Former Mariner farmhand Derek Lowe will try to keep the good times rolling when he goes for his 15th victory today in the finale of a seven-game swing through Oakland and Seattle. The Sox are 5-1 on the trip and have outscored their opponents, 46-16.

For Arroyo, who helped the Sox post their 12th shutout, tops in the majors, the outcome was a far cry from his last start in Seattle. He pitched well enough to win July 19, allowing one run over seven innings, only for Keith Foulke to blow a save in the 10th inning and Curtis Leskanic to surrender a walkoff grand slam to Bret Boone in the 11th.

No such calamity this time. With Arroyo gone after seven inings, the Sox survived back-to-back errors by Cabrera and Kevin Youkilis as Mike Timlin held the Mariners scoreless in the eighth. And Alan Embree finished things off in the ninth as the Sox logged their 16th victory in 18 games.

Amid their dominance, the Sox held Ichiro Suzuki hitless for a second straight game for the first time since April 29, slowing his pursuit of George Sisler's single-season hit record of 257. Suzuki was stuck on 229.

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