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Illness keeps Garciaparra away

Completing the circle, the third member of Boston's Big Three was sidelined yesterday by familiar flu-like symptoms. The illness had yet to be officially diagnosed, so it was unclear whether Nomar Garciaparra was stricken with the pharyngitis that earlier knocked Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez out of action (Martinez also developed strep). But it was clear the All-Star shortstop could not answer the bell for the series finale against the White Sox.

"He's too sick to play," manager Grady Little said. "He's got some flu-like symptoms. That's all I know about right now."

Garciaparra, who played the night before despite the symptoms, took a turn for the worse. He sent word to reporters that he was too ill to talk and was going home to bed. But the night's rest provided little relief.

"He actually didn't look as bad [Saturday] night as he looked today," Little said.

Garciaparra, who already had begun a course of antibiotics, reported to the park and was examined by team doctor Bill Morgan. Little then sent him home.

"We felt like the rest he could get at home would make it more likely he would be able to play [tonight]," Little said.

All the Sox could do was hope Garciaparra would be well enough to return to action tonight -- and hope he would emerge from one of the longest prolonged slumps of his career, a 7-for-53 (.132) slide since his last at-bat Aug. 30 against the Yankees. The slump has all but cost him a shot at his third American League batting title as his average has dropped to .309, its lowest point since May 31. As a measure of Garciaparra's woes, he has gone hitless (0 for 7 with a walk and a sacrifice fly) since he returned Friday to Fenway, where his home average of .378 leads the league.

Despite the slump, Garciaparra continued to rank among the top four in runs (113), hits (189), triples (13), total bases (325), and multihit games (59). His 26-game hitting streak from April 27 to May 26 also ranks as the league's longest this season.

Garciaparra was replaced by Damian Jackson (1 for 3) at shortstop and by Todd Walker (1 for 3) in the third spot in the order.

Off base Adding another chapter to his archive of base-running miscues, Manny Ramirez easily was thrown out by right fielder Magglio Ordonez trying to stretch a single with the bases empty and the Sox trailing, 5-2, with two outs in the eighth inning. Little was not pleased at the transgression, the likes of which could imperil his club's quest for a playoff berth.

"That is a case of being a little bit overaggressive right there and probably not using a whole lot of good common sense," Little said. "We are down three runs out there, and we don't want to make any outs on the bases. He knows that, the whole world knows that, but he kept going. And those are the kinds of mistakes out there that we have to minimize here to get this done."

Not their day It was the last day game of the season in the Fens. With two Sunday afternoon games remaining on the road, the Sox are 27-21 in day games (13-10 at home, 14-11 on the road). They have managed to post a winning record despite batting worse in day games (.279) than night games (.297). The Sox played the home finale without their top daytime hitter, Trot Nixon (.331). The other regulars who have hit .300 or better in day games are Ramirez (.323), Garciaparra (.310), Bill Mueller (.305), and Walker (.300). The strangest disparity belongs to Jason Varitek, who has hit .190 in day games and .316 at night. In his career, Varitek has hit .276 by day, .261 at night . . . Nixon hit in the indoor cage and played catch in the outfield before the game as he continued rehabbing his strained left calf. Little said Nixon remains several days away from returning . . . The only Sox player whose current slump rivals Garciaparra's is Kevin Millar, who went 0 for 4 as he slipped to 1 for his last 24 and let his average dip to .271, the lowest of the season . . . The Sox fell to 22-26 against lefthanded starters.

Broken records When Mueller knocked in Gabe Kapler with a sacrifice fly in the third inning, he became the seventh Sox hitter with 80 or more RBIs, a first in franchise history. The 1938 Sox were the only previous team in club history to have six players with at least 80 RBIs. Mueller's sacrifice also was Boston's 60th of the season, a franchise record . . . The Sox honored their 14 minor league players and pitchers of the year in a pregame ceremony. The players were first baseman/outfielder Andy Abad, Triple A Pawtucket; catcher Kelly Shoppach, Double A Portland; third baseman John Hattig, Single A Sarasota; third baseman Chad Spann, Single A Augusta; infielder Jeremy West, short-season Single A Lowell; catcher Salvador Paniagua, Gulf Coast rookie league; and shortstop Christian Lara, Dominican Summer League. The pitchers: righthander Bronson Arroyo, Pawtucket; lefthander Jorge de la Rosa, Portland; righthander Charlie Zink, Sarasota; lefthander Juan Cedeno, Augusta; righthander Jose Vaquedano, Lowell; righthander Kyle Jackson, Gulf Coast; and lefthander Mario Pena, Dominican league . . . The Sox expect to make an announcement this week about putting playoff tickets on sale. A number of teams began their sales last week.

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