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Agony of defeat

Sox lose streak, can't gain on NY

Searching for scapegoats?

Try horrormeister Stephen King, who tossed a ceremonial first pitch.

Or the filmmakers who turned the ballpark into a movie set, shooting scenes of funny guy Jimmy Fallon and love interest Drew Barrymore for a romantic comedy, "Fever Pitch," about a man obsessed with the Red Sox and a woman caught in the middle.

Or second base umpire Rob Drake, whose disputed game-ending call on Dave Roberts cost Manny Ramirez a chance to try to complete a rousing comeback.

Or settle for Tim Wakefield, whose fickle knuckleball stuck the Sox in an 8-1 jam.

But the fact is, no streak lasts forever. And the Sox ended their best in a decade -- a 10-game run that led them out of the wilderness to the threshold of the division lead -- as their feverish comeback effort fizzled and they fell to the Rangers, 8-6, before 34,670 at Fenway Park.

The loss cost the Sox a chance to climb even closer to the East Division-leading Yankees, who were pancaked, 7-0, by the Orioles amid an escalating crisis in the Bronx. Despite the streak interruptus, the Sox remained 2 1/2 games behind the struggling pinstripers but at least 4 up on the Angels in the wild-card scramble.

"It's kind of a letdown from our standpoint," catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "Even though realistically the streak wasn't going to last forever, it felt like it was. That's a great feeling to have, that you're never going to lose again."

Not that it's gone. The Sox made sure of it by surging back despite the gaping deficit, with Mark Bellhorn slugging a grand slam and David Ortiz swatting a solo shot to enable them to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

"It's so easy to give one [game] away and not compete, but we were down all game long and for us to battle back and make a game of it says something about this clubhouse," Roberts said. "It shows a lot of character."

In a last-gasp effort against All-Star closer Francisco Cordero, Roberts managed to single up the middle with one out in the ninth to bring Bellhorn to the plate. Bellhorn forced a 3-and-2 count as he fought off an array of nasty sliders and 98-mile-an-hour fastballs before Cordero jammed him, causing him to bounce a grounder to second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano scooped the ball and swiped his glove at the passing Roberts and fired to first in time to get Bellhorn. With Drake ruling that Soriano tagged Roberts, it turned into a game-ending double play.

"I don't know how close it was, but I know I was in the baseline and avoided the tag," Roberts said. "Rob thought he applied the tag, so it's unfortunate we didn't get Manny up to bat."

Sox manager Terry Francona protested, to no avail. Ramirez is 2 for 8 with a homer in his career against Cordero.

"I didn't think he touched him," Francona said. "I just would have liked to see Manny have an at-bat."

Trouble was, the Rangers earlier wreaked irreparable damage against Wakefield, who matched his season high by allowing all eight runs. The big blows were a two-run shot over the Monster by Rod Barajas on an 0-and-2 pitch with two out in the fourth inning and a three-run shot nearly to the same spot by Michael Young with none out in the seventh inning.

Wakefield said he was trying to induce a ground ball and left a knuckleball over the plate for Young, whose blast proved decisive.

"His margin of error is sometimes smaller than other guys'," Mirabelli said. "When he does make a bad pitch, they capitalize on it."

Francona indicated he struggled over how long to stick with Wakefield, who trailed, 5-1, after four innings. Wakefield often regains command of his knuckler as fast as he loses it.

"He's been so good for so long that I think one of the worst things I can do is not be patient enough," Francona said. "Because he finds it so often and he's so successful, I think he deserves the patience."

While Francona showed patience with Wakefield, Texas starter Chris Young showed no mercy to the Sox. A Princeton grad, the 6-foot-10-inch Young was more familiar with Sox CEO and president Larry Lucchino, a Princeton alum who addressed one of Young's classes in college, than the Sox were with Young. The Sox never had faced the rookie righthander.

All Young did was stifle them for 5 2/3 innings, surrendering only one run on two hits and a pair of walks. Relying on a fastball that reached 96 on the radar gun, he struck out five.

"He was unique, being 6-10," Kevin Millar said. "It was kind of a strange thing. We just couldn't get to him."

But they got to relievers Jeff Nelson and Ron Mahay just fine. After Nelson walked the bases loaded in the seventh inning, the Rangers summoned Mahay, a former Sox lefthander, whose 2-and-0 pitch Bellhorn lofted over the Monster for his second career grand slam.

"We weren't hitting too well," Bellhorn said, "and sometimes when it looks like that, all you need is a spark."

It seemed to ignite Ortiz, who moments later took Mahay deep to right for his 34th homer of the season, making it 8-6. But the Sox could do little against the final two Texas relievers, Doug Brocail and Cordero. The disappointing finish did little to dampen Boston's spirits, especially with Curt Schilling facing the Rangers today."Streaks end, but this team is playing great baseball and we have a lot of confidence right now," Millar said. "We have to find a way to get [Schilling] some runs, then shut the door."

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