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Red Sox feel the pinch in 8th

Alfonzo steps in with winning HR for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- Take it from Trot Nixon, who spent the first two months of the season in medical exile, separated from the game he loves.

"Baseball's tough," he said. "This game's not peachy and rosy all the time."

No need to remind Alan Embree, who surrendered a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to pinch hitter Edgardo Alfonzo yesterday as the Giants stunned the Red Sox, 6-4, before 42,499 at SBC Park.

No need to remind Pedro Martinez, who coughed up the other four runs in the first inning before he found himself.

And absolutely no need to remind David Ortiz, who ran the Sox out of a chance to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning by unsuccessfully trying to stretch a single into a double.

"This game's not nice to you all the time," said Nixon, whose pinch single with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth erased a 4-1 deficit before Embree gave up the game-breaker to Alfonzo.

Embree retired the first two batters in the eighth before A.J. Pierzynski lined a single just over the leaping shortstop Cesar Crespo and the Giants sent out the righthanded-hitting Alfonzo to bat for Damon Minor. Sox righthander Mike Timlin was not available because he pitched 2 2/3 innings the night before. And righthanded closer Keith Foulke was warming up for a potential matchup with Michael Tucker a batter later.

So Sox manager Terry Francona stuck with Embree, who had allowed Alfonzo one hit in four career at-bats and had fanned him twice. Trouble was, Embree misplaced a breaking ball on a 1-and-1 pitch and Alfonzo smacked it over the left-field wall.

"He just left a breaking ball right in the middle of the plate to a guy who knows what to do with a breaking ball right over the plate," Francona said.

Embree concurred.

"It was a situation where I didn't make my pitch," he said. "It was a strike and it wasn't supposed to be a strike, and he hammered it. That's all there is to it."

Embree has struggled since the Sox rested him for a while. In his last seven outings since May 30, he has allowed eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings for a 15.42 ERA.

"It seems like the last five outings I've been in a little bit of a rut," he said. "I feel good. It's just a matter of getting me going again. I need that one outing to get me going. Right now, it seems like it's not happening."

Yet the Sox had a chance to get him off the hook when Ortiz rifled a ball down the first base line with one out in the ninth. However, the lumbering Ortiz never hesitated rounding first and was easily gunned down as he bellyflopped into second.

"A big dump truck like me, I ain't got no brakes," Ortiz said.

The gaffe was as clear as the brilliant sky above.

"It was just a matter of trying too hard," Francona said. "I appreciate the hustle. I know he's trying to do the right thing in that instance. It wasn't. We'd obviously like to have Manny [Ramirez] coming up being the tying run. He knows that."

As misguided as Ortiz's base running was, it posed a stark contrast to Barry Bonds blatantly jogging out a grounder in the eighth on a play that should have been close if he had hustled.

"I'm not the fastest guy in the game, but when you go, you have to let it go," Ortiz said. "That's the way you have to play this game. I was hustling from the time I stepped out of the box."

An inning earlier, Ortiz started the tying rally with a leadoff single. Ramirez singled him to second and Gabe Kapler drew a two-out walk to load the bases for Pokey Reese. At that, Francona sent out Nixon to hit. The Giants countered with righthander Matt Herges, who had never faced Nixon. They also had available lefthander Scott Eyre, whom Nixon had reached base against six of eight times (2 for 4 with four walks).

Nomar Garciaparra, who was batting .583 (7 for 12 with two homers against Eyre), was on the bench, but Francona said he had no intention of using Garciaparra in the game because he wanted to rest him after the shortstop had played six straight games since coming back from right Achilles' tendinitis.

With all the maneuvering complete, Nixon battled Herges to a 3-and-1 count before he flared an opposite-field hit to left-center.

Two runs scored easily, and when Bonds misplayed the ball for an error, Kapler scored the tying run.

David McCarty then singled in the pinch to keep the rally alive, but Herges got Mark Bellhorn to fly out and prevent any further damage, clearing the way for Alfonzo's shot in the bottom of the inning.

Martinez's early struggle hardly helped, though he settled down and pitched five scoreless innings after the rocky first.

"They came out aggressive and knew I was going to throw strikes," he said. "I just made a couple of mistakes."

And the results were less than rosy.

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