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Sauerbeck leaves sour taste after pitiful outing

CLEVELAND -- A colleague passed on an e-mail the other day from a couple claiming to have named their newborn son Theo after the Sox general manager, which should make the kid feel right at home with their dog, Fenway. No need to check New England maternity wards today on whether there has been a run on parents naming their kids Sauerbeck.

At least newbie Theo will never have to answer to fans wondering why the Sox were so proud of themselves in July for outmaneuvering the Yankees for the lefthanded reliever who, after Black Saturday last night, has taken perhaps an insurmountable lead in the competition for worst acquisition, in season or out, by Sox GM Theo Epstein to date.

Sauerbeck does not bear sole responsibility, of course, for last night's 13-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, a team that had gone 17 innings without scoring a run and 22 innings without an extra-base hit but unloaded with 12 unanswered runs against a Sox team that took a 4-1 lead into the seventh and came out of it face to face with a Seattle Mariners team resuscitating itself in Oakland.

Eight games to go (seven for the Mariners, who have won two straight against the A's), and the lead in the wild-card race is down to 1 1/2 games again. In churches across the Nation this morning, extra novenas are being planned for Pedro Martinez, who is scheduled to start today and may need to pitch again next weekend before this thing is settled.

Derek Lowe, even though he'd been required to expend a minimum amount of effort through the first six innings, couldn't protect the lead, and second baseman Damian Jackson made a poor decision that helped fuel the Indians' seven-run seventh, their second-biggest inning of the season. And Scott Williamson and Brandon Lyon, summoned long after the damage had been done, couldn't spare the Sox further embarrassment, allowing five runs in the eighth to ensure the Sox would not be staging any last-at-bat comebacks.

By the end of the inning, the Sox were as prone as center fielder Gabe Kapler after his belly flop on Ben Broussard's sinking liner that became a triple.

"I can't recall ever seeing a game that was going along so smoothly turn in the opposite direction as fast as that one did," manager Grady Little said. "It got ugly, and is something we need to forget right away."

But it was Sauerbeck's pathetic attempt to restore sanity while the game was slipping away that will be obsessed upon by Sox fans destined to spend at least a few more days of West Coast scoreboard watching. It doesn't require the ghost of Rick Waits to remind fans that there's nothing safe about a 1 1/2-game edge with eight to play. In 1978, the Yankees were 3 1/2 up on the Sox, who won their last eight, while Waits, pitching for the Indians, beat the Yankees to force a one-game playoff.

Sauerbeck entered the game right after Lowe had given up the lead -- a wild pitch and Casey Blake's two-run double coming after Jackson had greased the skids for an Indians rally by trying to tag out base runner Angel Santos on Coco Crisp's ground ball, instead of flipping to second for the force or tossing to first.

Double play? Unlikely. Crisp can run. But Lowe was unable to pick up Jackson after his error -- he dropped the ball after missing the tag -- and Sauerbeck made the inning truly nightmarish.

Sauerbeck got a fly ball for one out, setting up an intentional walk to Alex Escobar, the Indians' cleanup man and a righthanded hitter. OK. Then he pitched around pinch hitter Victor Martinez, another righthanded hitter, walking him. Not great, but still tolerable.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace came out to talk to Sauerbeck before he faced the next batter, the lefthanded-hitting Ben Broussard, who earlier had hit a bases-empty home run off Lowe. Wallace went back to the dugout, and Sauerbeck's first pitch hit Broussard, forcing in a run. Left in to face the righthanded-hitting Josh Bard ("Bard is better against righties than lefties," Little said afterward), Sauerbeck surrendered a two-run single to make it 8-4, and the inning ended only because Broussard was erased in a rundown.

In 13 2/3 innings since coming to the Sox, Sauerbeck has walked more batters than innings pitched (15) and also has hit four batters, which is three more than he did in 53 games with the Pirates this season. He also has allowed 15 hits and 11 earned runs, which accounts for his eyesore of an earned run average, 7.24.

It's all baffling based on his pedigree: Sauerbeck may not have been Sparky Lyle, but the reports out of Pittsburgh were such that both the Yankees and Sox coveted the self-styled "curveball-flipping freak." So far, only the results here have been freakish.

"It's a ton of things," Sauerbeck said when asked what has gone wrong. "No excuses. I haven't pitched well. Part of it is physical, part of it is mental. And even when I do well, I'm not getting any breaks."

Sauerbeck said he has some tendinitis in his shoulder, but added that everyone does this time of year. He mentioned he got the ball a lot more in Pittsburgh, which made it easier to get locked in, but said that wasn't an excuse, either -- he couldn't expect Little to keep running him out there with these results.

"And tonight, I pitched around Martinez, which I wanted to do, to bring up the lefty [Broussard], but I got my hand under my curveball and it slipped out of my hand. It's lucky it hit him; I thought it was going all the way to the backstop.

"I just didn't get it done. When I'm out there, mechanically I feel awful. But it's something I've got to battle through. It's frustrating. But I either put my head down and fold up or go back out there and take it like a man.

"I pretty much made the worst of the situation, but I can't take it back."

Which accounts for all those novenas this morning.

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