MINNEAPOLIS -- The idea was to upgrade the team's woeful defense. So the last thing the Red Sox needed the day after they traded away franchise shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was to endure the sight of his replacement errantly kicking away a crucial relay -- and all but booting the game in the process.
All they could do after Orlando Cabrera's eighth-inning blunder in a second straight fall-from-ahead loss to the Twins was cling to the maxim that nothing worth achieving -- say, a world championship -- comes easily.
But it stung nonetheless after the Sox pen played a pivotal role for the second straight day in squandering a well-pitched game by their starter, this time Pedro Martinez.
"He pitched a great game and we came up short," said Alan Embree, who was charged with a blown save as two runs scored on Justin Morneau's sacrifice fly and Cabrera's error in a 4-3 loss before 38,751 at the Metrodome. "It [stinks] when that happens. It's two days in a row where you walk away going, `We should have [won].' "
Instead, the water treading continued as the Sox dropped to 41-41 since May Day while losing their eighth straight series on the road. The sad irony for Cabrera, who had a long flight to Tampa Bay with his new teammates to think about it, was that his gaffe spoiled an otherwise splendid debut. He became the eighth player in Sox history to homer in his first plate appearance with the team, cracking a solo shot off the league's hottest starter, Johan Santana.
"I was really excited," Cabrera said, "but I came here to win, so I was really disappointed when I made that error. Hopefully in the next couple of games we'll improve and start winning."
Thanks to Kevin Millar's sacrifice fly in the seventh, Martinez departed with a 3-2 lead after firing 101 pitches with a slightly aggravated right hip. But trouble developed quickly after Mike Timlin relieved to start the eighth.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Francona said of lifting Martinez. "But I was very comfortable the way we were handing it over. Timlin was going to face two [batters], Embree one, and then we'd hand it over to [Keith] Foulke. I thought we were in good shape."
Not quite. Timlin was unable to retire either batter as Cristian Guzman rifled a single up the middle and Lew Ford whistled a single off the glove of leaping third baseman Bill Mueller, sending Guzman to second.
"The pitch to Guzman was pretty good, but I missed a spot to Lew Ford," Timlin said. "I [stunk] today."
On came Embree, who the night before surrendered the decisive home run to Jacque Jones in the eighth inning of a 5-4 defeat. The coaching staff cautioned Embree to try to hold the runners close to prevent a double steal.
"We reminded him twice," Francona said. "I thought we did a good enough job, but we didn't."
Guzman and Ford bolted on a 1-1 pitch to Morneau, easily executing the double steal.
"They got a good jump," Embree said. "It was one little thing that happened and it changed the complexion."
Embree then tried to get Morneau to hit the ball on the ground with none out and runners in scoring position.
"But I left the ball up a little bit," Embree said, "and he hit in the air."
The ball traveled to the warning track in right-center, where Gabe Kapler raced it down and fired toward the infield as Guzman easily scored the tying run. Kapler hoped to deter Ford from thinking about scoring as well, but his throw overshot cutoff man Mark Bellhorn and Cabrera had yet to get in position to help.
"When [Kapler] missed the cutoff," Cabrera said, "I thought the ball was a loose ball so I was trying to get it."
But he kicked it toward the right-field line, allowing Morneau to score the go-ahead run. Francona said Cabrera could have been better positioned but said the Sox had little time to familiarize him with their defensive strategies.
"We're dealing with a guy who has been here for an hour [before the game]," Francona said. "It's just not possible to go over every single thing an hour before the game."
Nor was Francona kicking himself for pulling Martinez or the bullpen for its role in the loss.
"They are guys we feel so comfortable going to," he said. "You can second-guess yourself until you're blue in the face, but for us to win, these guys have to be impact guys for us."
The Sox, like almost every other team in the league, had no success against Twins closer Joe Nathan, who has not allowed an earned run since June 6 in converting 15 straight saves.
Not that they had much success against Santana, who has held opponents to a .119 batting average in 11 starts since June 9. He's 8-2 in those starts, fanning 112 and walking just 18. The wonder was that the Sox positioned themselves to win despite mustering only two hits, solo homers by Cabrera in the first and Manny Ramirez in the fourth (Torii Hunter made a leaping catch at the center-field wall to rob David McCarty of a homer in the third).
Amid a 2-2 deadlock, the Sox seized the lead in the seventh after Santana plunked Jason Varitek in the left side with a pitch. Varitek stole second and reached third on catcher Matt LeCroy's throwing error, setting up Millar's sac fly.
"We certainly didn't do much offensively," Francona said, "but what we did do, we needed to make stand up, and we didn't."
Martinez matched the rising star, Santana, for seven innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out 11.
"He reminds me so much of me when I was younger," Martinez said. "His stuff is a little bit better, just a little bit better than I was."
Martinez said he could have pitched deeper into the game but accepted Francona's decision. And as disappointed as Martinez was by the outcome, he said he was heartened by the promise of the revamped Sox.
"It's always frustrating to lose," he said. "But you know what, we're going to play better baseball than we're playing right now. It's just a matter of time."