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Rounding into form

Parade of Sox circle bases to beat Angels

A word about Angels in the outfield, and we're not talking about the Hollywood original with Paul Douglas and Keenan Wynn, or the remake with Christopher Lloyd and Danny Glover. This is about the Anaheim fly-chasers, the ones who have not had a moment's peace since alighting on the Fens.

"Those guys were beat, bro," said Curtis Leskanic, the reliever who recorded the final three outs of the Sox' eighth straight victory, a 12-7 win over Anaheim that widened the Sox' lead to 3 1/2 games over the Angels in the wild-card race, which also is the margin by which they continue to trail the New York Yankees in the American League East. "They were tired."

Who wouldn't be after back-to-back nights of double-digit Sox runs (10 on Tuesday, a dozen last night), 16 hits each night, and an additional 14 fly balls that were run down last night by Jose Guillen, Garret Anderson, and Vladi Guerrero, the moving targets among a steady stream of Sox rockets launched to every nook and cranny of Fenway Park.

"Playoff baseball -- 90 runs a night," cracked Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy on his way out of the ballpark, one that was jumping with as much energy on the first night of September -- the traditional start of the stretch drive to the playoffs -- as it was during a robust August in which the Sox matched the Cardinals for the majors' best record (21-7) and showed no signs last night of letting up.

Playoff baseball? "I hope we do it the rest of the year," Leskanic said. "We're just mashing the ball."

This mash unit was led last night by Johnny Damon, who had four hits, was on base five times, and for the second straight game touched off a four-run salvo in the first, and Kevin Millar, who bashed a three-run home run in the sixth, but had hits from everyone in the starting lineup, duplicating the top-to-bottom contributions from the night before. Mark Bellhorn doubled home two runs and scored twice and Orlando Cabrera (.379 in his last 16 games) tripled and doubled as the Sox faltered briefly, allowing the Angels to forge a 5-all tie in the third, before scoring seven runs in the middle innings.

"This is it, 1-9, man," Millar said after the Sox made it 14 wins in their last 15 games, 17 in their last 20, and 20 in their last 24. "That's the pressure this lineup puts on people. There's no letup. Bellhorn had big hits, Cabrera had big hits, and Johnny Damon has set the tone this series, leading off and getting on base."

Advance reports had suggested the Angels were just as hot as the Sox coming into this series, but after two straight nights in which their starting pitchers were able to register just 10 outs before leaving -- former Sox spinner Aaron Sele last night, John Lackey the night before -- the 35,076 in attendance last night would hardly be blamed for believing the field was tilted in one direction. Indeed, more often than not that has been the case for the Sox at home, and by a wide margin -- nine straight wins in the Fens, and a major league-leading 46 wins at home.

"Right now they could play in the Grand Canyon and they're going to score runs," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who replaced Sele with Scot Shields in hopes of slowing down the Sox, only to see Shields yield five runs on five hits in two innings.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona had much better results from his bullpen after Bronson Arroyo was KO'd in the third, his shortest start of the season. His first call went to Mike Myers. Yes, that Mike Myers, the one who had faced four batters Tuesday night and seen all of them score on a grand slam by flyweight Angel Alfredo Amezaga.

"I didn't dwell on it," Myers said last night, after he retired Darin Erstad on a chopper in front of the plate to end the third after the Angels had tied it, then recorded two more outs in the fourth. "Even before I got to the dugout, it was out of my mind. It [stunk] that I did that, but I chalked it up to a team victory. [Pitching coach] Dave Wallace gave me a tap on the shoulder, all fired up, and told me they'd use me in a close situation soon. I said, `Hey, relax, I'm fine.' "

That the call would come so soon came as a surprise to Myers, who has made more appearances (655) than any pitcher in baseball since 1996, but recalled getting summoned in the third inning only once before, when he was with the Brewers and they were trailing the Twins. He was so shocked by that one, he refused to warm up until the bullpen coach made sure that manager Phil Garner was serious.

"I got to the mound and asked him, `What's going on?' " Myers recalled. "He said, `Rain's coming in 20 minutes. Delay this game as long as you can, and we'll play a doubleheader tomorrow.'

Myers pitched his way out of the jam, got back to the dugout, and said to Garner, "Where's the rain?"

"It's coming," Garner said.

He pitched another inning, and Garner told him, "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is you're going back out there. The bad news is, the rain blew over."

The rusting Terry Adams, who hadn't pitched in a week, also found himself needed last night, especially with Ramiro Mendoza unavailable because of a groin problem, according to Francona. Adams came in for Myers after he walked Jose Guillen with two outs in the fourth, retired Troy Glaus on a fly ball, then pitched two more scoreless innings, allowing the Sox time to rev up their bats again. "In my nine-year career," said the well-traveled Adams, "I've been a setup man and a closer. Here, they already had a closer, and already had a setup guy. I was happy to go in tonight and pitch a couple of innings in a tight game and keep it where it was."

The Sox are now 25 games over .500 and assured of winning the series against the Angels, who will send ace Bartolo Colon to the hill tonight against Derek Lowe in an attempt to avert a sweep.

"I still think they're the best team we've played all year," Damon said. "They're scary, but we're playing well."

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