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Mission possible for Boston
10/07/2004 4:04 AM ET
ANAHEIM -- Last year at this time, the Red Sox had their fans alternating between euphoria and tears. One day it was a thrilling victory. The next day, a crushing defeat. Ultimately, that thrill ride landed in the deepest despair, via an agonizing defeat that left them one precious victory shy of the World Series.

The Red Sox are starting this postseason as if they're on a mission. And maybe, just maybe, that mission won't include a trail of bitten nails all across the six New England states. They could have been satisfied by splitting the first two games of this best-of-five Division Series.

But just as they promised after their Game 1 victory, the Sox went hard after Game 2. And though it wasn't always pretty or mistake-free, they succeeded in their mission, grinding through the early innings and pulling out an 8-3 victory over the Angels.

Thanks in large part to a gritty performance by Pedro Martinez and a clutch, game-tying, two-run homer by Jason Varitek, the Sox will bring a commanding 2-0 lead with them back to Fenway Park for Friday afternoon's Game 3.

It was the opposite of last October, when the Red Sox lost the first two games on the West Coast before gallantly winning the series over the A's in five games.

"It's kind of nice to be in the driver's seat," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon, who got two hits, stole a base and scored a run. "We know they're going to come out and play tough. We're going to be ready to play, ready to try and close it out."

The Sox now have a chance to make short work of the Angels, as they are just one win away from advancing to the American League Championship Series for the second year in a row.

Martinez, who entered this one with his first four-game losing streak of his career, silenced many critics by holding the Angels to six hits and three runs over seven innings. His final pitch of the night was a 94 mph fastball that went right by Chone Figgins for strike three.

"It's not any surprise to me," said Martinez. "But I am really happy in the same way to actually go back to where I wanted to be, and there was no better moment to actually change the way I was doing things.

In what seemed to be a statement game for the three-time Cy Young Award winner, Martinez improved to 4-0 with a 2.84 ERA in Division Series play.

"It was great," said Varitek. "A lot of people doubted the man and I don't doubt that man."

The bullpen held the Angels in check from there, as Mike Timlin, Mike Myers and Keith Foulke (1 1/3 innings for the save) slammed the door.

Varitek's equalizer off Bartolo Colon, set up by Kevin Millar's two-out single, gave the Sox the big hit they needed in the sixth to erase a 3-1 deficit.

Facts machine
Headed back to Boston with a 2-0 lead, history is definitely on the Red Sox side. In the history of five-game playoff series, teams with a 2-0 lead have gone on to win 34 of 42 series and have completed sweeps in 26 of those match-ups. Since Division Series play started in 1995, 16 of 20 teams to grab 2-0 leads went on to win. The only team to take a 2-0 lead back home and lose the series was the Oakland A's vs. the Yankees in 2001.

"I just wanted to get my legs under me. I was thinking drive the ball to center and I got a ball to pull," said Varitek.

And he seemed to pull his team right up along with him. From then on, the Sox were in control.

They were able to scrape out the go-ahead run against the nasty offerings of Francisco Rodriguez in the seventh. Bill Mueller led off with an infield single off the glove of second baseman Figgins. Damon hit into a fielder's choice and then stole second. After Mark Bellhorn walked, there was a pivotal wild pitch, setting up second and third and one out for Manny Ramirez. The RBI machine did his job, lacing a sacrifice fly to right-center that easily scored Damon.

In the ninth, they busted it open against Brendan Donnelly. Trot Nixon delivered an RBI single up the middle and Cabrera cleared the bases by ripping a three-run double into the gap in left-center.

"It's exactly what we want," said Foulke. "Have the starter go deep in the game, then we have the bullpen and the hitters who are able to do what we did tonight."

Martinez came out throwing gas for the Red Sox. He struck out Garret Anderson on a 95 mph heater to strand Vladimir Guerrero at first and end the first inning.

"He had that look on his face that he was going to go out there and get the job done," said Damon. "He went out and battled every single inning. He was pretty awesome. We knew he was going to be awesome. What a great, gutsy performance."

Colon was just as gutsy, but not quite as effective. He labored in the second, loading the bases for the second time in as many innings. With two outs, Ramirez worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to force in Mueller for the game's first run. But again, the Sox couldn't capitalize on their prosperity. With the 139-RBI bat of David Ortiz at the plate, Bellhorn was picked off second to end the inning.

The play seemed to ignite the Angels, as they rallied on Martinez. Troy Glaus led off the second with a walk and Jeff DaVanon cracked a single. Dallas McPherson blooped a single into short left, bringing in Glaus for the tying run.

Martinez settled down, getting the next three batters to keep it a tie game.

The Angels temporarily put the Sox on the ropes by coming up big in the fifth. Jose Molina blooped one into left field that dropped in for a hit, thanks to some confusion between shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Ramirez. David Eckstein lined one over Bellhorn's head and into center.

With one out, Martinez hit Darin Erstad on the leg, setting up bases loaded and one out for Guerrero. The MVP candidate then laced a two-run single into right-center, giving the Angels their first lead at 3-1.

"We could have hung our heads or sulked," said Damon. "We could have buried our heads, but we kept battling and it paid off at the end."

The Sox are in control of this series, but they seemed to have a sense on their way back to Boston of not taking that foot off the accelerator.

"They're a great team, they're not going to quit," said Millar. "We have to come out on Friday and put our foot on their throat."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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