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Double take

Sox grab opener as Damon plates three in the eighth

Red Sox Nation already loved Johnny Damon, but after a three-run double in the eighth inning last night off Angels reliever Scot Shields, the feelings of 35,328 fans at Fenway and thousands more watching on television grew even deeper.

The crowd erupted when Damon hit a line drive to straightaway center that rocketed over Steve Finley's head. By the time the baseball was returned to the infield, Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn had scored, and the Sox went on to win, 7-4. The Angels loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but Keith Foulke struck out Finley on a fastball to end the game, earning his 12th save.

''I think the ball just took off," Damon said of his double, which at first appeared to be misjudged by Finley. ''I don't think there's one center fielder in the league that would have caught that ball. Even if he was playing deeper, your first reaction is to take a few steps in. I definitely wouldn't have caught that. I don't think guys like Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones would have, either. And Finley, he's one of the best -- but that was just the backspin."

Damon, who left the bases loaded in the second inning, was down in the count, 1 and 2, before delivering in the eighth.

Damon is now 5 for 10 with two doubles and 13 RBIs this season with the bases full.

''That was not an easy pitch to hit," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''That ball really came off his bat. We've seen it. I hope we keep seeing it. Johnny just has a knack, not just with the bases loaded, but all the time. He fouls off tough pitches. It's hard to defense him."

Trot Nixon singled up the middle to begin the inning and stole second base while Jason Varitek was striking out. After Kevin Millar lined out to left field, Mueller was walked intentionally so Shields could pitch to Bellhorn. Francona opted against pinch hitting for his second baseman, and Bellhorn drew a walk.

That set the stage for the second important late-game hit in as many days -- following David Ortiz's walkoff homer Thursday afternoon to beat the Orioles -- and Damon obliged.

Sox starter David Wells went seven innings, allowing four runs on nine hits while striking out four. Myers (2-1) pitched the eighth and got the victory.

Wells's one bad inning was the fifth, when the Angels scored three runs, two on a Chone Figgins homer.

''That's my story this year, huh?" said Wells. ''Crooked numbers will get you every time, but you've got to battle. All you can do is pitch well enough to keep your team in the game. But the way these guys are hitting, it's unbelievable."

Angels starter Kelvim Escobar left with a 4-1 lead after six innings. The Angels had been 23-3 this season when leading after six, but the Sox bucked that trend.

With Brendan Donnelly on in relief in the seventh, the Sox rallied to tie it at 4-4.

After Millar doubled and Mueller walked, Bellhorn doubled down the right-field line, scoring Millar. Damon's grounder to deep first allowed Mueller to cross the plate with the third Red Sox run, and after Edgar Renteria walked, Angels manager Mike Scioscia summoned Scot Shields. Ortiz worked the count to 3 and 2, before hitting a sacrifice to left, scoring Bellhorn with the tying run.

''We wouldn't be here right now even with our heads above water if it weren't for the job that the bullpen has done all season," Scioscia said. ''Brendan and Scot have been there all year for us. They hit a little bump in the road here the last outing or two, but they'll bounce back."

The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. After Escobar retired the first five Sox batters, Jason Varitek walked. Millar reached on a throwing error by third baseman Dallas McPherson and Varitek came in on Mueller's single to right-center. But even after Bellhorn walked to load the bases, Damon lined out to first, ending any further threat.

The Angels responded, knotting the game at 1-1 in the third. After Adam Kennedy reached when Wells got in Millar's way as the first baseman attempted to complete a tag on a slow roller, Figgins followed with a double off the wall, sending Kennedy to third. Darin Erstad's grounder to second scored Kennedy.

But for the second consecutive game, the Sox got to one of the best bullpens in baseball, one of their traits during last year's magical season.

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