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A shaky start for Burkett

He can't escape jams in 1st, 5th

A light rain falling, the Fenway faithful trying to figure out whether to sit down, squeegee off, or run for cover, Red Sox starter John Burkett quickly found himself in a deluge of trouble yesterday.

There was the pitch to leadoff hitter Roberto Alomar, smacked to left-center for a double. Then there was an 0-and-1 offering to Carlos Lee, and the White Sox left fielder sent a high fly ball that hugged the left-field line for a two-run homer.

Faster than you could consult "The Old Farmer's Almanac" on what a late-summer shower might portend, the rain was about to end, but the Sox were working with a 2-0 deficit.

"I put it down the middle to Alomar," recounted Burkett, whose record fell to 10-8 with a 7-2 loss to the playoff-hopeful White Sox. "Lee, I tried to get in tight and jam him. I left it out over the plate a little, and the way he hit it, it just stayed straight. Out over the middle of the plate more, and maybe he gets the head of the bat on it and it hooks foul. But he pulled his hands inside and got it."

But from that inauspicious beginning, the righthander responded with a sudden and effective turnaround, retiring eight straight ChiSox after yielding a one-out single later in the first to Magglio Ordonez. Backed by baseball's most potent offense, Burkett was back in a 2-2 tie by the bottom of the third.

"It's been a very frustrating season for me," said Burkett, who had gone 1-0 in his last four starts, the Sox winning three of those four. "The first inning's been a tough deal for me. But I'm definitely able to forget about it. It doesn't do any good to dwell on the negative. Yes, it's frustrating when that happens. But I know I'm on a team that's going to score runs, and two runs aren't going to beat you." Meanwhile, Chicago starter Mark Buehrle (13-13) was thinking just about the same thing after giving up a Manny Ramirez homer in the second and Bill Mueller's tying sacrifice fly in the third. The difference the rest of the way was that Buehrle was able to tiptoe out of trouble while Burkett, each time he brushed up against poison ivy, came away with an acute rash of Chicago runs up and down his backside.

With one out in the fifth, Sandy Alomar knocked the first pitch from Burkett to the back row of the Monster seats. Roberto Alomar walked, Lee doubled to left-center, scoring Alomar, and Ordonez eventually banged a two-out, RBI double to left. It wasn't an out-and-out Burkett bashing, but it was effective, giving the White Sox a 5-2 lead.

"The story of the game is: [Buehrle] pitched well with guys on base, and I didn't," said Burkett, whose best run this season came in June and July when he won five of six decisions across seven starts. "That's the bottom line -- I didn't pitch well with men on base and he did."

Simple, but true. Burkett lasted six innings and was picked up by Bronson Arroyo. Buehrle lasted seven innings, and shimmied his way out of slight jams in the fifth (Gabe Kapler leadoff double), sixth (Todd Walker and Ramirez opened with singles), and seventh (Jason Varitek opened with a single to right).

"We got some guys on base on him," mused Burkett, likely to make three more starts as October's prom dates await. "But he did a good job of making pitches when he needed to, and I didn't do that."

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