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Great eighth (six runs) lifts Sox

ATLANTA -- With just one Rudy Seanez pitch, delivered at 86 miles per hour with next-to-no movement, except for the arc it traced on its way out of the ballpark, this looked like a 2-4 road swing through Minnesota and Atlanta. Jeff Francoeur's three-run rip on a Seanez slider in the bottom of the seventh inning last night turned a 3-2 Sox lead into a 5-3 Atlanta edge, and it looked like that would be the ball game, as David Ortiz (swinging) and Manny Ramírez (looking) quickly sat down to begin the eighth.

And then it happened, a two-out, eighth-inning explosion that comes along maybe once or twice a season. Trot Nixon walked. Jason Varitek walked. Coco Crisp singled in Nixon, snapping a personal 0-for-11 skid. Mike Lowell, pinch hitting, worked a full count and shot a two-run double to the gap in right-center. Alex Cora, pinch hitting, laced a single to center, scoring Lowell. Kevin Youkilis homered to left, a two-run blast. Mark Loretta singled and Ortiz was hit by a pitch before Ramírez made his second out of the inning to end it.

The totals: 11 batters and six runs scored, all with two outs. The result: a 10-7 Sox win against a crumbling Atlanta team that has now handed over seven consecutive games and 17 of 20 to opponents. The Sox, according to statistician Chuck Waseleski, hadn't scored as many as six runs in an inning after falling behind after seven innings since April 2001 at Tampa Bay.

``We bounced right back with a vengeance and that's awesome," said manager Terry Francona. ``That's a losable game and it hurts. And it winds up being a great inning. There was no letup."

However, the win didn't come without an interesting bottom of the eighth, in which Mike Timlin was roughed up for two runs on four hits, handing off to Jonathan Papelbon with two on. He got the final out of the eighth on one pitch and cruised to his 23d save as the Sox pulled a game ahead of the Yankees, who lost, 3-2, on 21-year-old Ryan Zimmerman's two-run, walkoff shot off Chien-Ming Wang at RFK Stadium.

The Sox now have 22 come-from-behind wins, second most in baseball to the Brewers (24). The Yankees, meanwhile, have 20 blown-lead losses, second most in baseball to the Devil Rays (25). The Sox are 9-4 in games decided after the seventh. The Yankees are 7-12.

The win allowed the Sox to return home this morning (they were due in sometime after 4 a.m.) with a sweep of the Braves, after being swept out of Minnesota.

``This was a great win for us on a road trip we could have buried ourselves on but didn't," said Curt Schilling, who received two no-decisions on the trip, with the team losing his start in Minnesota and winning his start here last night.

The ``W" belonged to Seanez, of all people, even though he pitched the poorest of the six Boston pitchers.

Francona said he was ``very confident with that matchup" between Seanez and Francoeur.

``I thought we had a free swinger, I thought we were going to be in good shape," Francona said. ``That kid's swinging from the on-deck circle. Throw one over the plate and that happens."

Seanez, however, contended that he was happy with the process, just not the result.

``I didn't think it was a bad pitch," he said.

This was supposed to be a repeat of the Schilling-Johan Santana duel last week, with Schilling opposing John Smoltz. Smoltz began the night 181-133 with a 3.27 ERA and 2,647 K's; Schilling was at 201-133, 3.41 ERA, 2,914 K's.

Smoltz worked seven innings and labored, throwing 123 pitches and leaving in a 3-2 hole. Two of the runs came on homers. Ortiz supplied an early 1-0 lead, homering three batters into the game on a first-pitch fastball that blazed in at 96 m.p.h. Ortiz's homer was his second in as many days and his 20th of the season, giving him five consecutive 20-homer seasons.

Ramírez, who took Saturday off with a bad knee -- and a bad series of at-bats (he was 0 for 17 coming into last night) -- was back in the lineup.

With Ramírez leading off the fourth, Smoltz fell behind, 2 and 0, and unleashed what looked to be a well-located fastball, low and on the inside corner, knee high. Ramírez, though, uncoiled his bat and sent one soaring into the warm Atlanta night. His 452d career blast tied him with Jim Thome and Carl Yastrzemski for 29th all time. The homer, more immediately, pulled the Sox into a 2-2 tie.

Schilling had given up both of those runs in the Atlanta half of the third, though the Sox ace was one good pitch to Andruw Jones away from getting out of the inning unscathed. He allowed the two runs on four hits, all singles.

The Sox regained the lead, 3-2 in the sixth, when Smoltz walked three Ortiz, Ramírez, and Nixon to begin the inning on a total of 14 pitches (four to Ortiz, six to Ramírez, four to Nixon). Varitek, despite Smoltz's wildness, swung at the first pitch, a fastball that looked to be up and away. Smoltz then threw three more balls. Varitek, on a 3-and-1 count, grounded into a double play to plate a run.

Schilling completed the bottom of the sixth and left ahead, 3-2. The Sox bullpen could have used another inning out of Schilling, but he hasn't been pushing his pitch count as he did earlier in the season. In Minnesota Schilling pitched eight masterful innings but left with the score tied at 1-1 despite throwing just 91 pitches, 17 below his season average.

Last night, Schilling worked through six innings in 101 pitches.

``I was spent," he said. ``This was the first game I've thrown in 3-4 months in any kind of weather other than calm and chilly."

His departure meant turning it over to the bullpen, which isn't the safest thing to do these days. Manny Delcarmen nearly got the Sox through the seventh. He began by fanning Edgar Renteria with a beautiful curveball and popping up Scott Thorman. But Jones singled to left. Francona opted for lefthander Javy Lopez, who walked Brian McCann on five pitches. In came Seanez and out went the first pitch he threw. Braves 5, Sox 3.

But Crisp singled in a run in the eighth, and Lowell's clutch two-out, full-count double pulled the Sox ahead, 6-5. And they continued piling it on.

``To get a little bit of a blow and to be that ready says a lot not only about his swing but his character," Francona said of Lowell.

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