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Running start

Scoring 7 in 4th, Sox leave Angels in the distance

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Who would have thought a bunch of idiots (their term, not ours) could look so smart playing the national pastime?

Forget "Baseball for Dummies." The Red Sox yesterday continued crafting a revolutionary version of the primer in their own wacky image.

"We are not the cowboys anymore," Johnny Damon, the team's chief yo-yo, declared. "We are just the idiots this year. We feel like we can win every game, we feel like we have to have fun, and I think that's why this team is liked by so many people out there."

Especially in Boston, which has long prided itself on embracing noncomformists.

But not in Anaheim, where the idiot act didn't fool anybody as the Sox played nearly every facet of the game as if they invented it in shellacking the Halos, 9-3, in Game 1 of the Division Series before 44,608 at Angel Stadium.

"If they are, they are idiots who can play ball," Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia said. "I tell you, they are tough."

Actually, Sox manager Terry Francona thought Damon calling his boys idiots might be a tad too harsh. Francona indicated his renegades may be the idiot savants of baseball.

"As a group, they are borderline nuts," he said. "But when they get out in the field, I think they try to play the game right."

Curt Schilling may just be crazy enough to believe he can all but singlehandedly fulfill the championship-famished franchise's unrequited dream. He took the first giant step toward the postseason promised land as he pinned the opening defeat on the Angels, surrendering three runs over 6 2/3 innings to improve his career playoff record to 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA (he has not lost in the postseason since 1993 with the Phillies).

"He's everything you saw," said Kevin Millar, who launched a two-run homer that helped break the game open in a seven-run fourth inning, the biggest in postseason history for the Sox. "The guy's a horse. He's the most prepared pitcher out there. He's got great postseason experience, and he did everything we could ask of him. He went out there and gave us a chance to win."

Manny Ramirez, another madcap member of Damon's posse, also came up big, rocking a three-run homer and a first-inning double. Nutty as it may sound, Ramirez insisted he was just having fun.

"You only live one time," he said. "It's easy when you're happy and everything is going good. The days go so fast. When you're mad, they go forever."

The day flew for the Sox as they seized the advantage in the best-of-five series with Pedro Martinez prepared to start Game 2 tonight against Bartolo Colon. It felt much sweeter to the Sox than the early days of last year's Division Series, when they dropped the first two games to the A's before they swept the final three to advance to the fateful second round against the Yankees.

"We came in and played the way we were supposed to play," Gabe Kapler said. "Schill pitched the way he was supposed to pitch and Manny swung the bat the way he's supposed to swing the bat. It takes contributions from everybody up and down the roster, but at the same time the big boys have to do their thing. They did it today."

The Sox also played smooth defense, save for an injury-related error by Schilling that helped the Angels score a consolation run as they trailed, 8-2, in the seventh inning. No one was smoother in the field than shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who showed no signs that he was affected by playing his first postseason game.

"Orlando is phenomenal, has been since the day he got here," Schilling said. "He is a game-changer in the field."

With the Sox leading, 1-0, in the third inning -- thanks to Ramirez hustling his way to the double off Anaheim starter Jarrod Washburn and scoring on a single by his bashing buddy, David Ortiz -- the Angels had runners at the corners with two outs when Cabrera submitted his first dandy play. He charged a slow roller by Garret Anderson and fired off-balance to nail Anderson and snuff the threat.

"I thought he hit it harder than he did," Cabrera said. "When I saw the ball almost dying in the grass, I tried to charge it real fast and get rid of it real quick because he's a pretty good runner. It was good because we got the momentum for the fourth inning."

The Sox seized it as Millar followed Ortiz's leadoff walk by launching his second homer in as many postseason games (he homered in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series last year against the Yankees) for a 3-1 lead. Millar laid off an inside fastball before Washburn tried to fool him.

"He came back with a changeup," Millar said, "and I just got the barrel on the ball, thank God."

By the time Anaheim third baseman Chone Figgins made a two-run throwing error on Damon's grounder and Ramirez uncorked his homer, the Sox had all the runs they needed with an 8-1 lead.

"Millar's home run was definitely the biggest," Damon said. "But Manny's home run, that was the clincher."

Cabrera chipped in again in the sixth inning as he ranged to the right of second base to field a grounder by Bengie Molina and threw him out thanks in part to a nice scoop by Millar and Molina's slow feet.

"There was nothing special about that play," Cabrera said. "He's probably the only one I could throw out."

No matter. Cabrera's fellow former Gold Glover, Doug Mientkiewicz, tipped his hat to both Cabrera and Millar.

"Those plays to kill a rally are just as big as hitting a ball over the fence," he said.

Mientkiewicz, who replaced Millar in the seventh inning, helped seal the win by laying down a nifty RBI bunt single in the eighth. With two outs, he dropped it toward third base, allowing Damon to score easily from third.

"It's not about how fast you are, it's where you put it," Mientkiewicz said. "To me, that's a big run because they had the momentum coming back and we scored right there and turned it around."

The Sox also got a lift from Alan Embree, who retired the only batter he faced in the seventh to pick up Schilling, and Mike Timlin, who held the Angels hitless over the final two innings. Schilling needed the help because he tweaked his ankle in the fifth inning, a ding that contributed to a throwing error he committed in the seventh.

"You hear about the playoff numbers with Curt and figure he's going to go eight innings and we'd have the night off," Embree said. "But Mike and I look forward to this time of year. It was good to get in there and get our feet wet."

As sweet as winning the opener was for the Sox, the Angels figured they have history on their side. They lost the opener of every postseason series in 2002 en route to a world championship.

"There's no cause for alarm," Washburn said."Obviously, you'd like to win the first game, but we're not dead."

The Sox know that.

"It's great to be up, 1-0, but it's just one game," Damon said. "We're not going to be satisfied by just splitting. Now we need to try to win [tonight] and let the cards fall where they may."

Damon added, in a stage whisper, "I think I might have the better cards."

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