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07/02/06 9:00 PM ET

Red Sox nip Marlins

Team caps 16-2 Interleague stretch with series-finale win

MIAMI -- The searing humidity and uncomfortable heat that made its way around Dolphin Stadium on Sunday afternoon was nothing compared to the predicament Red Sox rookie lefty Jon Lester found himself in during the bottom of the second inning. The Marlins had loaded the bases with nobody out and the top of the order was coming up. In other words, Lester got into damage control mode.

Instead of merely containing the rally, Lester stifled the Marlins in their tracks, getting a shallow flyout to right from Hanley Ramirez, a pop to third by Dan Uggla and a flyout to center by star slugger Miguel Cabrera. Just like that, Lester was out of the inning with no runs across.

It was a symbolic sequence in a day things didn't come easy to the Red Sox, but they were able to wind up in the victory circle at any rate, coming away with a 4-3 victory over the Marlins. Just like that, Interleague Play ended for the Red Sox, who finished with a glittering 16-2 record over the National League East foes. Overall, the sizzling Sox have won 14 of their last 15.

Boston had just five hits in the game, but three of them were home runs. On the other side of the ledger, the Marlins came up with nine hits, yet left 13 men on base.

"It was a really good win under circumstances where you could walk away and lose that game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Lester (five innings, seven hits, two runs, three Ks) lost the chance for his fourth victory in as many starts when Julian Tavarez, starting his second inning of work, gave up a game-tying solo shot to Cabrera on a 3-1 pitch in the seventh.

But his early work stood tall in the narrow victory, which ultimately went to reliever Mike Timlin.

"Obviously, it's huge, because that's the turning point in the game. If you give up a couple of runs there, you probably won't win," said Lester. "It's good that we won. It gives you a boost to get out of those jams and battle through five innings."

Thanks to some more Houdini-like pitching, this time from Timlin, the Red Sox never did fall behind in that seventh. With a runner on first, Wes Helms dropped a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line, but it became worse, as Kevin Youkilis, screened off by Timlin, bobbled the ball for an error.

The Marlins went to the bunt again, and this time Timlin charged it and threw to first for the out. Joe Borchard drew a walk to load the bases with one out, but Timlin escaped, getting Jeremy Hermida on a looping liner to short and Mike Jacobs on a pop to the first base line. Timlin actually grabbed that popup, going in front of David Ortiz, who had dropped a foul pop earlier in the game for an error.

Ortiz, who, aside from the All-Star Game, isn't likely to play first base again this season unless the Red Sox make it to the World Series, took no offense to Timlin's aggressiveness.

"It's crazy but you know how it is, I [didn't] want [any] part of it either," said Ortiz.

Interleague dominance
By taking a 4-3 victory over the Marlins on Sunday, the Red Sox finished Interleague Play with a 16-2 mark and tied with the Twins for the best record against the National League. A look at Boston's dominating run over the NL East:
Category Red Sox NL East
Wins 16 2
Average .315 .240
Runs 126 70
Home runs 32 19
ERA 3.77 6.66

The Red Sox went right back in front in the top of the eighth. Alex Cora led off by reaching base on an error by second baseman Dan Uggla on what was less than a routine play.

Gabe Kapler followed with perfect execution, lunging for a pitch on the outer half of the plate and placing a hit-and-run single to right-center, giving the Sox runners at the corners with nobody out. After a lineout by Youkilis, Mark Loretta got the job done with a sac fly to left.

So much for the sting the Red Sox felt when Tavarez left that sinker up to Cabrera.

"We've been good at that. Good teams are," said Francona. "You don't feel sorry for yourself. You don't let down. You come back and play the rest of the game."

The bullpen held it from there, with Manny Delcarmen getting the first two men in the eighth and closer Jonathan Papelbon notching the final four outs of the game for his 25th save in 27 opportunities.

"Papelbon is just unbelievable," said Kapler.

The Red Sox played long ball early against Marlins rookie Josh Johnson, getting a leadoff shot from Youkilis to open the game, a solo homer by Jason Varitek to lead off the second and a two-out, solo blast by Ortiz in the third. The Marlins countered with their own leadoff homer in the bottom of the first, with Ramirez launching one over the wall in left.

There would be some twists and turns along the way, but the Red Sox did just enough to prevail.

"It was a tough game," said Loretta. "Their pitcher did a good job. He didn't give in after giving up those home runs. It was a nice win."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.