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Paint it bleak

On dismal day, Sox fit to be tied

If the Rolling Stones were hired to write the theme song for this year's Red Sox, the group might overhaul one of their classics. Instead of "Satisfaction," they could go with "Separation." That's because no matter how hard they try, the Sox can't get no separation in their quest for the top spot in the wild-card race.

Yesterday's 5-4 loss to the White Sox, which dropped Boston into a tie in the wild-card race with Texas and Anaheim, was a snapshot of the club's most recent problems -- another runner thrown out at the plate (a double-whammy considering Kevin Youkilis was injured on the third-inning play), and a bullpen that imploded after another quality start from Bronson Arroyo.

Add to that the deception and tremendous velocity swings of White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu, whose pitches ranged from 53 to 88 miles per hour and who induced Orlando Cabrera into a half-swing game-ending tapper back to the mound with runners at the corners in the ninth,

and it added up to a gloomy loss on a gloomy day for 34,405 at Fenway. The figure allowed the Sox to eclipse 2 million in attendance earlier than any time in franchise history.

Sox center fielder Johnny Damon said Boston's lack of speed is the main reason the club's had seven men cut down at home over the last 13 games. Damon said third base coach Dale Sveum has been receiving far too much criticism for his decisions.

"I actually thought Youkilis got in there after I saw the replay," Damon said. "But we have to start rounding the bases better. Today was difficult because the bases were a little wet because of the rain. It's tough to be losing so many one-run games, especially those where you're getting a runner thrown out at the plate. With two outs, we're off at the crack of the bat. We should be scoring. I understand we're getting thrown out on good throws, but we've got to get faster as a team."

Damon's assertion is backed up by a telling statistic: Of Boston's 312 hits with runners in scoring position, 52 have not produced an RBI.

In the third inning, Youkilis led off with a bloop single to right. After White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle fanned Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz back-to-back, Varitek moved Youkilis to second with a single to left-center. That's when Cabrera, who broke out of his funk with a three-hit day, stroked a single to center. Sveum gave Youkilis the go-ahead but Aaron Rowand's perfect throw to Sandy Alomar spelled doom for Youkilis, who ran smack into Alomar's shinguard and suffered a deep contusion on his right leg and a possible twisted ankle.

Youkilis and Alomar, who suffered a groin injury, had to leave.

Arroyo, who has worked into the seventh in his last four outings, retired the first 10 batters, but the White Sox scored a pair in the fourth. The key play of that rally, according to Arroyo, was allowing Carlos Lee (who had doubled to score Timo Perez) to steal third. "I came to a set right there and I told myself, in my mind, should I look back and check this guy . . . I hadn't seen him in a few years and he's a bigger guy now and I didn't think he'd take third in that situation," said Arroyo. "Sure enough, as soon as I started going to the plate I heard, `There he goes!' Just a mental lapse and not knowing who's running the bases there." Lee scored on a Paul Konerko ground out for the 2-0 lead.

The Sox pulled even on Doug Mientkiewicz's two-run single in the sixth, but Arroyo coughed up a run in the seventh when Jose Valentin singled, stole second, took third on a long fly out, and scored on Juan Uribe's sacrifice to left.

Trailing by just a run with three at-bats left, the game was still manageable. However, Sox mangager Terry Francona lifted Arroyo to start the eighth and the bullpen was horrific.

First came Alan Embree, who allowed a single to Willie Harris and Perez's sacrifice bunt. Next up was Mike Timlin, who surrendered a two-run homer to Lee giving the visitors a 5-2 lead.

Timlin has struggled in his last 16 appearances, spanning 13 1/3 innings. In that time, he's allowed 20 hits and 13 earned runs. Could fatigue be a factor for Timlin, who has made 54 appearances?

"Sure, we think about it all the time," said Francona, though Timlin left the clubhouse without speaking. "That's why we've been trying to monitor Timlin this last week, because we want him for the stretch. We want him to be strong. It's not always as easy as you draw it up. With [Scott] Williamson not here, [Curtis] Leskanic not here, it gets a little more difficult."

Yet, the Red Sox made this one interesting. They left the bases loaded in the eighth when Takatsu struck out pinch hitter Dave Roberts. Boston rallied again in the ninth. It started with a leadoff single off the wall from Ricky Gutierrez. After the Sox loaded the bases with one out on Mueller's single and a walk to Ramirez, Varitek delivered a two-out single to right after Ortiz struck out on a 66-m.p.h. slider.

That brought up the red-hot Cabrera, but the shortstop, who had never seen Takatsu, got fooled on a slider.

"I just thought it was going to break the same way [as] the first one he threw to me," Cabrera said in frustration. "This one broke away. It's very frustrating. I thought I could do something right there."

Damon refused to blame Cabrera.

"He's in the toughest situation of any of the guys who came over here because he's replacing a franchise player," said Damon. "He's been swinging the bat well. If I had done anything -- [he grounded out into a force in the ninth] -- the story might have been different."

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