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Poison ivy

Maddux, Cubs stifle Red Sox at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- The professorial 38-year-old bounded up the dugout steps, his hand aloft, acknowledging the legion of 39,215 who packed Wrigley Field yesterday.

Greg Maddux is listed at 180 pounds. He weighs not a pound more, not even yesterday, soaked with sweat on a nauseating 89-degree afternoon. But Maddux stood before Cubs Nation in the bottom of the sixth inning feeling rather brawn, having just tunneled even deeper into the heart of Cubs Nation with a performance that even here at Wrigley -- where folklore exists in each crevice and corridor -- won't soon be forgotten.

Maddux's contribution? A home run, the capstone moment on a day in which the Cubs -- riding Boston pitching and a southwesterly breeze -- launched four balls over the ivy walls, cranked out 20 hits, and beleaguered the Red Sox, 14-6.

The Red Sox waited 89 years for this?

Boston had never before visited Chicago's North Side ballpark, which opened in 1916. The 1918 World Series vs. the Cubs? That was staged at Comiskey Park. At long last they arrived here yesterday morning to a playoff-size media crowd. Even principal owner John W. Henry sat on the Sox bench during batting practice. Looking around, he deemed Wrigley ''a country fair without the advertising."

But, by the time Maddux had taken John Halama deep to make it 11-2 Cubs, the Sox may have felt like the muscular kid at the fair who watches a runt step up, struggle to lift the hammer, and proceed to ring the bell.

The difficulty for the Sox, then, is answering the bell. They've won only 11 of 26 games dating to May 13, they've allowed 13 or more runs four times in that span, and they've been failed more than anything by their starting pitching.

''We've gotten ourselves in too many games where we're down early," down manager Terry Francona said postgame/mortem. ''That's not an easy way to do things. [Thursday] we got everybody rest, we're an hour into this game, and we're already concerned about the bullpen. That's a tough way to do it."

What Francona was getting at is this: In the last 26 games, Sox starters have gone 6-12 with a 6.46 ERA. Arroyo yesterday lasted only four innings -- 10 hits (two home runs), 7 runs, 0 walks, 4 strikeouts -- and had the Sox in a 3-0 hole after two innings and 7-1 after three. In those 26 games, Arroyo and rest of the rotation coughed up 69 runs in the first two innings.

''I still believe we have good enough pitching, good enough players, to win games," said Francona, who has been without his ace, Curt Schilling, for seven weeks now.

''We just haven't done a good enough job."

Asked if he has enough personnel options and the room to change players' roles, Francona answered in the affirmative but stood by his current stock.

''I have as many options as I want," he said. ''I make those decisions. What I want is to get our guys going. That's our responsibility, to get these guys on the field playing better, throwing better, that's why we're here. When guys have a tough outing, it's easy to start making the chess moves. We have an obligation as a staff to get these guys better."

Arroyo isn't Concern No. 1, but he's climbing the list. Since his 17-game unbeaten streak ended, Arroyo is winless in four starts (0-3) and has almost as many runs allowed (18) as he does innings pitched (18 2/3).

The song that leads off Arroyo's soon-to-be released CD is ''Slide," and his season is taking on a similar theme.

''I don't feel as good as I did physically," Arroyo said. ''I feel a little sluggish. I just feel like the pitches coming out of my hand are sluggish. I feel like the breaking ball doesn't have a lot of snap to it and my fastball doesn't quite have the zip to it. It's a long season."

As Francona pointed out, ''His breaking ball hasn't been that sharp and, especially against lefthanded hitters, that takes one of his best weapons away."

That's been evident in the .295 average lefties toted into yesterday against Arroyo, who was holding righties to a .170 mark. And, it was evident when Jeromy Burnitz and Todd Hollandsworth, both lefties, launched balls out of the yard in the three-run second inning. In the third, Chicago laced together four straight singles -- with a Jason Varitek throwing error mixed in -- and added a double to score four more for a 7-1 lead.

''It's the worst-case scenario," Arroyo said. ''Going out there against a guy like Greg Maddux, seven runs early, it's almost impossible to get out of [that hole]."

Maddux continued pounding the strike zone, needed only 86 pitches to complete 6 2/3 innings, and left with win No. 310 of his career firmly in his grasp.

The Sox offense came, but came late. Behind, 14-3, after seven innings, they tacked on three in the ninth on a solo homer by ex-Cub Mark Bellhorn (his third) and a prolific David Ortiz blast (his 16th) that cleared Sheffield Avenue.

''Hit that one pretty good," Ortiz said, flexing. ''Not bad."

Quite good, really, a combination of Ortiz's muscle mass and bat speed and a nice summertime breeze that Johnny Damon labeled a ''jet stream." Into the evening, that breeze was whipping a white flag decorated only with a blue ''W" that flew atop the manual scoreboard in center field. A Wrigley tradition, the flag indicates for commuters rolling by on the train how the Cubs fared that day.

In the case of the Sox, the flag might as well have been plain white.

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