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Red Sox fritter it away

Early squandered opportunities prove costly in loss to Anaheim

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Sonny McLean's, the Santa Monica pub favored by Red Sox chairman Tom Werner when he's home on the Left Coast and needs a fix of the Nation, sent seven busloads of fans down the I-5 freeway to Angel Park here for last night's playoff preview, if such a thing is possible in June.

Suffice to say, the Sox gave them lots to talk about on what turned into a long ride home, as the Angels came back from a 4-1 deficit to win, 7-6, the Sox deflating like the giant plastic baseball Ellis Burks punctured after it drifted into the dugout from the stands.

Surely the most debatable topic was Sox manager Terry Francona's decision to allow a tiring Bronson Arroyo to face the Angels' most prolific hitter, Vladi Guerrero, with one run in and two runners on in the sixth inning of a 4-all tie. Guerrero flattened Arroyo's 109th pitch for a two-run gapper, perhaps leaving the ball as misshapen as the one pricked by Burks.

Then came the seventh, when the Sox turned a promising rally into a Goya scream. Manny Ramirez raised a few eyebrows by jogging to first on his third hit of the night, one that very nearly skipped past left fielder Jose Guillen. Jason Varitek moved Ramirez to second with his third hit, lining a single to right, Ramirez doffing his helmet to Guerrero after the right fielder threw a rocket to third.

Ramirez may have been too shocked to salute Angels catcher Jose Molina, who picked Ramirez off second after Brian Daubach, attempting to bunt on his own, missed a bunt on the first pitch. Daubach's decision to bunt, of course, flies in the face of an organizational aversion to do so.

"We were just trying to be a little bit aggressive there," Ramirez said. "It was my fault. They made a great play."

Daubach wound up popping out, and Kevin Millar waved at a slider from Francisco Rodriguez to end the threat.

Arroyo had retired Guerrero on his first three trips to the plate and had made him look bad doing so, whiffing him in the first and retiring him on infield popups his next two at-bats.

"That's why he was in there," Franconca said. "I knew he was getting toward the end. We were reaching there. He had made good pitches to him, but the last time he didn't."

Daubach, who earlier made a damaging error in the Angels' two-run fourth, made it close with a two-run, two-out home run off struggling Anaheim closer Troy Percival, who had blown three of his last six save opportunities. But that home run was merely a prelude to one last conversation piece, the astonishing catch made by backup third baseman Alfredo Amezaga on Millar's smash down the third-base line to end the game. The airborne Amezaga, a natural shortstop, was fully extended into foul territory and parallel to the ground when he gloved Millar's bid to keep the game alive.

"So many things happened in that game," Francona said. "We helped them get back in it a little bit."

On the night, the Sox whiffed 14 times -- four times in 16 pitches from Rodriguez, every bit as remarkable as he was when he first burst onto the scene in the 2002 postseason -- hit four Angels batters and walked five others, made two errors, and were caught napping on the bases and in the field (third baseman Kevin Youkilis was surprised by the Angels' double steal in the sixth). They fell 1 game behind the Yankees in the AL East.

The Angels, who played before a sellout crowd of 43,285 and have been outdrawn only by the Yankees, are atop the AL West by 2 1/2 games over Texas.

Former Sox prospect David Eckstein extended his career-best hitting streak to 16 games with three hits, including an RBI single that tied the score in the sixth off Arroyo, and an RBI double in the seventh that drove in the run that proved to be the difference.

The game matched teams that have won despite the highest attrition rates in the league. The Angels have played just one game with their projected starting lineup, which is still one more than the Red Sox will have had until Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon return.

The Sox, coming off a 7-3 homestand, were attempting to carry over their strong play on the road in the first game of this short five-game excursion to Anaheim and Kansas City. The Angels, staggering back from a 1-5 trip to Toronto and Chicago, were attempting to regain their equilibrium at home with a new center fielder, Raul Mondesi, who signed with Anaheim despite the best lobbying efforts of his friend Ramirez, and their porcine ace, Bartolo Colon.

Colon was matched against Boston's No. 5 starter, Arroyo, which on paper tilted the game in Anaheim's favor. But Colon has been laboring in Derek Lowe-like fashion this season. If he'd signed with the Sox last winter instead of the Angels, talk shows in Boston would be wearing out Jim Schoenfeld's notorious "Have another doughnut" audio clip. And last night was no exception.

Colon, who hasn't won since May 8 and had pitched as many as seven innings only once in his last seven starts, was gone by the end of the fourth inning, having delivered an astonishing 109 pitches to register 12 outs. The Sox took a 4-1 lead with Ramirez delivering two two-out RBI doubles against his former Indians teammate, while Millar hit his second home run in two games.

Varitek accounted for the fourth Sox run by following Ramirez's double, which had scored Mark Bellhorn, with a double of his own into the right-field corner. But the Sox left eight men on base against Colon, including the bases loaded in the third, when Pokey Reese went down swinging. Their inability to turn this one into an early laugher caught up with Arroyo in the bottom of the fourth, when the Angels drew within a run with the aid of just one hit.

Mondesi was hit by a pitch with one out, then hustled home from first on a double by Casey Kotchman, the Angels' rookie first baseman. Kotchman took third on an infield out and scored when first baseman Daubach made a hideous feed to Arroyo on Eckstein's tapper to first, Daubach's high toss causing Arroyo to step right over the bag.

The Sox will send Pedro Martinez to the mound tonight against Angels lefthander Jarrod Washburn.

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