SEATTLE -- It went 11 innings, not 15 rounds, but you would never know from looking at the flushed, puffy-eyed face of Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whose voice was reduced to a scratchy rasp, the kind of sound that comes out of a man who has taken one too many blows to the solar plexus.
This one -- an 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners on an 11th-inning grand slam off Sox reliever Curtis Leskanic by Bret Boone, playing for the only team in the major leagues that hadn't hit a grand slam this season, after Sox closer Keith Foulke gave up two home runs in the bottom of the ninth -- extracted a pain almost beyond words. No surprise, then, that when the doors to the visiting clubhouse swung open after the game, the silence was overwhelming.
"I feel like it," Francona said when someone mentioned it looked like he'd spent the night wearing padded gloves. "Probably everyone here feels like it.
"You go into ninth with a lead and Foulkie on the mound, you feel great. I don't care what the score is. But [the Mariners] did what they're supposed to do."
Foulke had only given up two home runs in a regular-season game three times in his career, only once since his rookie season of 1997, and that was against Tampa Bay on April 28, 1999, more than five years ago.
But he was done in last night by a Mariner newcomer, catcher Miguel Olivo, and an ancient Mariner, 41-year-old Edgar Martinez, who had inflicted a similar blow on Foulke in a playoff game four years ago. Olivo homered with one out in the ninth to make it 4-3.
"The first home run," Francona said, "you could chalk it up to, well, we got the first out, the kid hits a home run, but we're still OK."
One batter later, it was anything but OK. Martinez, who had beaten Foulke with a 10th-inning home run in the 2000 playoffs when Foulke was still with the White Sox (John Olerud followed with another home run), came up as a pinch-hitter and drove a tying blast into the right-center field seats.
Foulke survived a two-on, two-out 10th, but Leskanic gave up an infield hit to Olivo to open the 11th, and walked Dave Hansen, who was attempting to bunt. Ichiro Suzuki succeeded in bunting the runners over, and after an intentional walk to Randy Winn, Boone drove a 0-1 pitch from Leskanic over the left-field fence.
Manny Ramirez, playing left field for the first time in over a week, didn't move when Boone connected. For a few long moments afterward, Francona, Curt Schilling and Kevin Millar hung on the dugout railing, looking straight ahead, saying nothing.
"Derek [Lowe] has to come up big tomorrow," said Francona on a night that the best-pitched game of Bronson Arroyo's life -- three hits, 12 whiffs in seven innings -- went unrewarded. "We had a lot of relievers throwing tonight. Derek has to come out and throw like he can throw."
Things had looked good for the Sox in the eighth, when catcher Jason Varitek hit a three-run home run off Mariners reliever J.J. Putz, breaking a 1-all tie.
And the Sox had survived Bill Mueller's throwing error in the bottom of the eighth that led to the Mariners' second run on rookie Bucky Jacobsen's broken-bat bleeder off Mike Timlin. Timlin struck out Jolbert Cabrera with the tying runs on second and third to end the inning.
But then came the ninth, when Foulke couldn't hold it.
Ramirez's return to the Red Sox lineup may have been disappointing to soap opera fans, but for much of the evening it was even more of a letdown for Sox fans who thought Manny's dancing hammies might put a little extra kick in the Boston offense.
No one had a greater reason to feel deflated than Boston starter Arroyo, who put up the kind of strikeout numbers worthy of a Schilling or a Martinez but found himself in no better than a draw for seven innings because of a 45-foot groundball that kicked off his leg into shallow right field for a tying double.
You want Randy Johnson? Arroyo, who had the Mariners lunging at his slow curves and slower changeup all night, registered 11 straight outs by strikeout, from Randy Winn's whiff to end the third to Justin Leone's whiff to start the seventh.
The last pitcher to record at least 11 consecutive outs by strikeout was The Unit himself, who whiffed 13 straight July 4, 2001, in Houston against the Astros.
Since 1997, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strike out 12 in a game are Pedro Martinez (30 times), and Hideo Nomo (14 May 25, 2001, and 12 June 22, 2001, both at Fenway Park against Toronto). The last time a Red Sox pitcher other than Pedro struck out 12 or more on the road: Roger Clemens's second 20-strikeout game at Detroit.
Arroyo allowed just three hits, one the ball hit by Boone that took a crazy bounce into the outfield for the weird double in the sixth that scored Winn, who had lined a more conventional two-base hit to right and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Ramirez did his part early, drawing two walks, hitting a single, and making a nice running catch in the seventh inning that appeared to validate the judgment that the tender hamstrings that had kept him out of left field since July 10 were in no immediate danger of snapping, crackling, or popping.
But despite a dozen strikeouts by Arroyo through seven -- a season high in whiffs for any Sox pitcher -- the Sox couldn't put away the last-place Mariners, who have replaced such familiar names as Martinez and Olerud with guys named Bucky and Leone (not Sierra).
Former UMass star Ron Villone, who had spent most of his season in the bullpen, made his second start of 2004 and evidently was effectively wild, walking four, hitting a batter (Mueller), and throwing a wild pitch to the screen, yet holding the Sox to just one run through six innings. The Sox had five hits in that span, including a leadoff double by Mark Bellhorn in the fifth, but scored only in the fourth, when Ramirez, who had walked, came around on singles by Nomar Garciaparra and Varitek.
The Sox lost second baseman Pokey Reese in the third inning when he came out with a strained muscle in his right rib cage.
A devastating loss was yet to come.