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Red Sox brave storm in ninth

Miller's first win saved by ending double play

It was another nail-biting finish by Keith Foulke, who decided after allowing two runs in the ninth that he no longer wanted to talk about ''negative [stuff]." And the closer is right. There was enough positive to talk about after Boston's 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in the first game of a three-game interleague set.

There was Wade Miller's 6 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball. There was Mike Timlin's sparkling relief. There was Bill Mueller's two hits, including a two-run homer in the second that wound up being the winning hit. There was Johnny Damon's leadoff triple -- one of four times the center fielder reached base. There was Jason Varitek's two hits, including his solo homer to spark Boston's three-run second.

And after making things rather interesting, Foulke finally shut the door when he induced a double-play ball off the bat of the ageless Julio Franco.

''I really thought [Foulke] pitched better than the way it looked," manager Terry Francona said. ''I'm glad they didn't get another run. I thought he threw the ball better than the line is going to look [today]."

Once again, the Sox were able to get the job done against Tim Hudson. There's no doubting Hudson is one of the best pitchers in baseball. However, you'd never know it by his performances at Fenway Park.

The Braves righthander allowed four runs in the first two innings of his six-inning stint but did wiggle his way out of several later jams. But there's no doubting the Sox have Hudson's number.

Prior to last night's mediocre effort, Hudson was 1-3 with 8.53 ERA in four starts in the Fens. In his only postseason outing here (Game 4 of the 2003 American League Division Series) while with Oakland, he never made it out of the first inning.

Hudson's effort was the opposite of his Boston counterpart, Wade Miller, who turned in his third straight impressive outing.

He threw 105 pitches, the same number he threw last time out, May 14 in Seattle when he went 5 2/3 innings and left trailing, 3-2, only to have the Sox come back to win on Trot Nixon's grand slam.

''Outstanding," Francona said of Miller's outing. ''I think he's getting a little stronger. Tonight was the first time he pitched into the seventh. Going back out for the seventh, I think that shows he's getting a little more stamina."

Miller actually disagreed with Francona, saying, ''Actually, this is probably the worst game I felt going out there of the three starts. I didn't have the kind of feel for it today." Nor did he feel his velocity was as good as in his first two outings.

The Braves finally broke through against Miller, scoring a run in the fifth. The inning started with Johnny Estrada's single to left-center. After the 46-year-old Franco lined to right, Brian Jordon doubled off the wall in left-center, moving Estrada to third. The run scored on Raul Mondesi's ground out.

Foulke, who entered with a 4-1 lead, gave up two quick runs, highlighted by Chipper Jones's double, Andruw Jones's triple, and Estrada's infield single, before getting Franco on the twin killing.

Damon set the tone by jumping all over Hudson right off the bat, lining a triple to the triangle as some of the 35,332 were still settling in their seats. Damon scored on Edgar Renteria's grounder to second.

The game-turning second inning featured Mueller's first home run of the season, a Pesky Pole shot, and the first round-tripper for a Sox third baseman this season, on a first-pitch fastball with Kevin Millar (single to right) aboard.

''It was early in the ballgame but I was happy to put runs on the board. As it turned out we were happy to get the runs when we did," said Mueller, of his first homer since Sept. 26, when he victimized Yankees righthander Esteban Loaiza.

Earlier in the inning, Varitek stroked his ninth homer, some 379 feet away in left-center.

The Sox once again got stellar relief from Timlin, who retired all five batters he faced, including three strikeouts. Timlin, making his 21st appearance, entered for Miller with Estrada on second base and one out. He struck out Franco and got Jordan on a grounder to third.

Batters are only 2 for 20 against Timlin with runners in scoring position.

Timlin, who extended his scoreless streak to 15 2/3 innings and who hasn't allowed a run in 15 appearances, feels he might be on one of the best stretches of his career.

''I'd say so," said Timlin. ''I'm still learning things every time I go out there. I learn things from [fellow relievers] Keith [Foulke] and from Alan [Embree] and from Mike [Myers] and Matt [Mantei], and all of our guys. It's in God's hands."

Holding a 4-0 lead, the Sox squandered a few other scoring opportunities. One of the negatives was Renteria, who had a decent 7-for-24 road trip, stranding seven runners. . He left the bases loaded in the fourth and sixth innings, incurring the fans' wrath in the form of boos after his sixth-inning at-bat.

Manny Ramirez's struggles contined, as the All-Star left fielder went 0 for 4, with three ground outs and a double play. Ramirez worked right up until game time in the batting cage with hitting coach Ron Jackson, trying to cure his batting woes, but by the end of the night his average had dropped to .230.

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