BOSTON (AP) – The constantly chipper Kevin Millar had a real reason to smile. The Boston Red Sox had won their fourth straight game, were excelling on the mound, at the plate and in the field and had a day off to enjoy all that.

And on Friday they should get a better idea of when Curt Schilling might pitch again.

Not a bad stretch for a team that had lost four of five road games against St. Louis and Chicago before beginning its turnaround with an 8-1 win over the Cubs last Sunday. Then Boston swept three games from Cincinnati before beginning another three-game series against Pittsburgh after an off day Thursday.

“It’s pretty neat to have one (day off) at home,” Millar said after Wednesday night’s 6-1 win over the Reds.

It was only Boston’s second day off of the year between series at home, and the team should get even more help from the schedule the rest of the way.

After Wednesday’s games, the Red Sox trailed Baltimore in the AL East by three games. Toronto and the New York Yankees were 61/2 games out. But Boston had played just 29 games at home and 36 on the road, while Baltimore had been home for 34 and on the road for 31.

The Red Sox also have played 40 of their 65 games against teams currently with .500 records or better, while the Orioles played 34 of their 65 against such squads.

Boston has a strong home advantage after the All-Star break when it plays 43 games at Fenway and 32 away from home. Baltimore is home for 33 and away for 41, while the Yankees are home for 33 and away for 42.

That won’t mean much if the Red Sox don’t play well. Many of them, including Millar, Manny Ramirez, Keith Foulke and the starting rotation, are rebounding from recent struggles. Schilling is expected to have the bone bruise on his right ankle examined Friday in Boston after he threw Wednesday in Arizona, where he was rehabilitating the injury that landed him on the disabled list April 29.

“It really comes down to pitching,” catcher Jason Varitek said of the team’s success. “We’re not expecting shutouts every day, but we threw the ball well.”

They’ve been doing everything well. In their last four games, the Red Sox increased their team batting average from .277 to .283, lowered their earned run average from 5.08 to 4.84 and made no errors. They never trailed against Cincinnati.

The Reds have the second worst record in the NL but had scored at least 10 runs in four of five games at home before visiting Boston, where Red Sox starters Matt Clement, David Wells and Bronson Arroyo allowed four runs and 13 hits in 22 innings.

“Hope it continues,” manager Terry Francona said. “When you get good starting pitching, when we’re not playing catchup, whatever offense we get looks good and we add on (runs). Ends up being a great night.”

In the last four games, Johnny Damon’s batting average went from .338 to. 344, Bill Mueller’s from .270 to .278, Millar’s from .259 to .278 and Ramirez’s from .248 to .260.

On Friday, Wade Miller tries to extend Boston’s run of good pitching when he faces a sub-.500 Pittsburgh team.

“When (the pitchers) go out and put up zeros, we go out and score runs,” Millar said.

AP-ES-06-16-05 1835EDT


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