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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Once potent offense has to perk up soon

SEATTLE -- Blame it on good pitching, or bad umpiring. Blame it on the loss of their leadoff man (Johnny Damon -- strained right hamstring) or call it a normal market correction. You can blame it on the faulty electrical grid in Ohio if you want, but the fact remains that the Red Sox are no longer mashing the ball they way they were earlier this year.

Yesterday, in the town where you cannot help but wake up and smell the coffee, the Red Sox were stuffed on four hits. Boston's 3-1 loss to the Mariners put the Sox five games behind the Yankees, a season-high six games back in the loss column. Any consolation in the knowledge that the Little League team from Massachustts beat the Little League team from Washington state?

Freddy Garcia, Rafael Soriano, and the inimitable and untouchable Shigetoshi Hasegawa stopped the Sox sluggers yesterday. The M's scored all their runs after getting two outs with nobody on base and an 0-2 count on Edgar Martinez in the fourth.

Seattle's a balanced team, playing in a great ballpark that treats fans to a Sunday seventh-inning strech routine that includes perhaps the three greatest songs of all time: "God Bless America," "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and "Louie, Louie." (sheer concidence, but Hasegawa's agent, Brookline's Ed Kleven, also represented the Kingsmen, who recorded the "Animal House" anthem). The Red Sox dropped two of three at Safeco, but would love to return for a playoff series in October.

Good plan. But the week out west reaffirmed the suspicion that any Sox plan to bash thier way into the World Series represents flawed logic.

The Sox hit only .213 (49 for 230) on this 3-4 trip through Oakland, Calif., and Seattle, and are now batting only .248 (141 for 569) in August. They're hitting .266 since the start of July. This was bound to happen after they hit a ridiculous .315 in June.

"It's possible to keep that up, but not likely," said Trot Nixon, who had a homer and a double batting leadoff yesterday. "We saw some pretty good pitching here, and we're probably gonna face good pitching the rest of the year. But we're going back home and hopefully we'll get some home cooking and score some runs. We made some hard outs today."

No lie. The Sox hit the ball harder than the Mariners, but buzzard luck kept them off the board after Nixon's homer in the third.

Fenway has never looked friendlier. The Sox are 39-19 at home, only 32-34 on the road. This makes it a perfect time to be coming home for a whopping 12 consecutive games, including the next seven against the two teams that smothered Papa Jack's Band out west.

"We hit a lot of balls hard at people," reasoned Kevin Millar. "But that was the first time around. We can come home now and make some adjustments. I hadn't seen any of these guys before. We come to our place now and I think it will be a different story."

The Sox clubhouse was unusually quiet as the fellows paid the clubhouse attendants and packed for their long trip home. In the middle of the quiet, John Burkett, yesterday's losing pitcher, went to the defense of his offense.

"I will put our offense up against anybody," said Burkett. "They were able to shut us down today, but I expect it to be different at home. We have an exceptional offensive team."

True, but history has not been kind to Boston's offensive juggernauts. The 1950 Red Sox starting lineup batted .313. The entire team hit .302, but finished in third place. The 1977 Sox hit a club record 213 homers, but finished tied for second, behind the World Champion Yankees.

Nomar Garciaparra has been one of the more frustrated Sox hitters of late. Last Sunday in Boston, he closed the homestand with a dramatic strikeout against Oriole closer Jorge (100 miles per hour) Julio. Yesterday, Nomie came to the plate with runners on second and third and two out in the eighth. He had a chance to tie the game with a single. But the Mariners brought in Soriano (96 m.p.h.), who fanned Garciaparra on three pitches. The third strike was called. Nomar thought it was low and away and chatted with umpire Jerry Meals (anybody else find humor in a guy named Meals behind the plate?).

"We've been a little cold with the bats," acknowledged team leader Jason Varitek. "But we're right where we need to be. We're still in a good position and I think the offense will pick up."

They need to get it going starting tomorrow. Six out in the loss column with 38 to play is not a pretty prospect. Never mind the coffee. Time to wake up the bats.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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