Byung Hyun Kim's brief, futile run as a starter ended so abruptly last night it could have caused whiplash.
In a powerful sign that the Red Sox will have little patience with mediocrity in their push toward the postseason, they yanked Kim from the rotation immediately after he put the team on the path to ruin by surviving only 3 1/3 innings in a wretched 10-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians before 35,257 at Fenway Park.
Kim's lapse allowed the Yankees to creep within a half-game of the Sox in the American League East.
"We're in a very competitive area in what we're trying to do," manager Terry Francona said. "And right now it's just not working [with Kim] starting. I don't think it's fair to him or to us, so we're going to make a change for now."
No sooner did the Sox hit the clubhouse after Kim's second straight abysmal start -- this time the struggling Korean surrendered six runs (four earned) on five hits, three walks and a hit batsman before he departed to a cascade of boos -- than Francona and general manager Theo Epstein huddled behind closed doors with Kim, pitching coach Dave Wallace, and senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger.
The message was clear: Bronson Arroyo would replace Kim in the rotation, taking the next turn Saturday against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
What remains to be seen is whether Kim reports to the bullpen, Triple A Pawtucket, or the team's training and rehabilitation center in Fort Myers, Fla. The Sox gave Kim the night to consider the options.
"We're going to do what we think is in his best interest and our best interest," Francona said. "I frankly don't know the answer right yet."
Kim, who left the park without talking to reporters, insisted in the private meeting that he was physically fine, though his velocity clearly had dropped. His fastball was clocked as slow as 82 miles an hour and rarely faster than 86.
"He said, `I'm searching for my mechanics and my delivery. I'm searching for feeling good,' " said Wallace. "Young pitchers go through that, especially when they make the transition from relieving to starting."
Kim has allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in 6 2/3 innings over his last two starts, surrendering 11 hits, four walks, and hitting a batter. That was enough for the Sox to turn to Arroyo, who has logged a 4.44 ERA in four starts.
"I was not totally shocked," said Arroyo. "But I was a little surprised it was so quick."
Kim's woes, which precipitated a second straight loss for the Sox, touched off an uncharacteristic run of trouble for the vaunted Sox pen as all but one of Boston's five relievers contributed to Cleveland's scoring splurge. It got so ugly that the empty seats nearly outnumbered the occupied ones by the end of the 3-hour-38-minute thrashing.
The Sox twice dug themselves out of two-run holes Kim created before the game finally got away from them.
"We could just never catch up," said Brian Daubach, who knocked in three runs with a solo homer and two-run double filling in for Manny Ramirez in left field. "We kept battling and scoring runs, and they kept scoring more."
The Sox played without Ramirez because he had traveled to Miami to become a United States citizen.
While Daubach filled in admirably for Ramirez, Jason Varitek launched a solo homer, and Mark Bellhorn chipped in a run-scoring triple. Johnny Damon also did his job at the top of the order, reaching base four times on three singles and a walk. But Kim was no match for Lou Merloni and the Indians. Returning to Fenway for the first time as an opponent, Merloni was honored with a video tribute accompanied by Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" between scoring a run and knocking one in. But Merloni was far from alone in bedeviling the Sox as everyone in Cleveland's starting lineup other than Omar Vizquel either scored a run or knocked one in.
"We kept coming back," said Kevin Millar, who reached base twice filling Ramirez's cleanup role, "but we just couldn't get a shut-down inning when we needed it."
After the Tribe routed Kim, they nicked Lenny DiNardo for one run, Alan Embree for two more, and Mark Malaska for another. Since Mike Timlin surrendered a single that drove in a run charged to Embree, the only Sox pitcher to go unscathed was Keith Foulke, who worked a perfect eighth.
Not a night to remember for the Sox.
"You just want to wash your hands clean of it," Embree said.
The problems with Kim were bountiful, from his reduced velocity to his lax control to his crossing up Varitek on a crucial pitch in the second inning. With two out and runners on second and third, Varitek called for a backdoor slider to Matt Lawton but Kim fired an inside fastball, which bounced off Varitek for a passed ball, allowing both runners to score.
"He just needs some clean innings to get him some confidence," Varitek said. "He really hasn't gotten any confidence in his last two outings. Hopefully through time we can do that."
But the time is not now. The question is, when will it be?
"It's just a matter of going out there and getting some innings and getting untracked," Wallace said. "What that is, don't ask me. We need to sit down and talk about it."